The ALLO Katana 1.2 DAC with Isolator - Review 2018

Discover the fabulous ALLO Katana 1.2 DAC with Isolator

I've been using the Allo DAC products from the start and although there were some very understandable development hiccups on the way. 

But now Allo has flourished as a company and offers a plethora of high-quality audiophile products and the Katana is one which really stands out from the crowd. 

On my last review of the Allo Boss DAC, I wondered how things could get any better? Well needless to say things have just got better, a truckload better. Digital always surprises me in its steps forward in sonic performance, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

Image of the ALLO Katana DAC

Jumping right back to the IQ Audio DAC I was quite amazed by how great it sounded. I was hooked pretty quickly. But back then things were a little confusing and sometimes frustrating when setting up due to the early development of software.

The Katana 1.2 is simply brilliant in it's set up. Mine came with an RPI 3 and with it the latest Isolator fitted which some of you may have read about in my previous reviews. In my opinion, the Isolator is simply a must.

Unboxing the Katana 1.2

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator unboxing -
The Katana arrived ready-made but I felt you needed to see the individual parts as you guys like to see so I carefully disassembled it for your pleasure.

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator unboxing -

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator assembling-

The assembly is really easy but because some of the cards are now using smaller multi-pin connectors it certainly requires a little more care.

The case is really easy to assemble too. It's a jig-saw sort of affair and clicks together perfectly around the unit. Once assembled, it's nice and strong and sturdy but the large capacitor does stick up from the top of the case so this is something you need to take care of.

My reviews for this are based on using the bog-standard power supplies. Although I'm a big believer in what a good PSU can do I find this to be the best way to give an honest account and provides 'a control'.

The latest Shanti PSU brings huge gains in performance, take a look at my review of this, you can find it on my blog.

To read more about the Allo Shanti ultra low noise linear power supply, click HERE!

The Sound

So let's get down to the switch on and most importantly, the sound. But it's worth me mentioning at this point that once powered up you may not need a Christmas tree, it's very pretty with lots of little lights.

I had been waiting for the Katana for quite a while and I kind of knew that I wouldn't be disappointed but I didn't expect the overall advancement in sound over the Boss DAC.

I have a selection of albums that I use as a benchmark which I feel give a good breadth of styles from 1960/70s to modern-day dance and Goa trance. All source files are either WAV, FLAC, or DSD.

The first albums were Demon Fuzz, Afreaka! and Pink Floyd's, Meddle.

As soon as the first track hit my speakers I simply thought it was the Boss DAC, not much indifference at all. Maybe a little more space in the stage but nothing to write home about and still amazingly good as ever. But after only a few songs in on Meddle things started to change. I wasn't expecting the sound to form so quickly out of the box as well all know these things need around 100 hours to really start to boogie.

So, when the track Echoes hit things were getting a little scary... in a good way. I had to get up a few times, walk around a bit to make sure I wasn't hearing things. The bass was lovely with a gorgeous 'Floooowmmm' which really resonated whilst the mids were coming through nice and easy. It immediately made me want to hear a more modern album because the bass was so nice. But at the same time, I simply had to just keep listening.

At this point things were getting very exciting so on went Shpongle Codex IV. I love Shpongle, the ambience and the textures are really amazing, kinda messes wiv ya head.

So when the bass kicked in I was blown away. I have the same album on vinyl which I thought was the best sound but I must admit this is trumping it somewhat.

When previously hearing this using the Boss DAC the sound was great, detailed, and wholesome. Hearing it through the Katana 1.2 is a new experience IMO. The pace and the transient detail is upped in accuracy and the smoothness is very analogue sounding.

The word 'harshness' doesn't even come into it. It just doesn't sound digitally overthought which has always been the real bugbear of digital sound.

I believe the Isolator really does make a marked difference and well worth the extra outlay. Without it, the sound is slightly less engaging. With the Isolator installed an extra PSU is required as it feeds the RPI.

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator assembling -
I've had it running most days and the sound has grown even more in practically every way. The highs have really come into their own. The whole image is nicely balanced and it really is something to admire.

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator fully assembled -
As you can see, it's all grown up. Now with 5 boards including the Pi it now certainly looks like a serious bit of kit.

The ALLO Katana DAC + Isolator fully assembled -

What are my bad points?

It's really difficult to pick it apart sonically. If there was anything I could criticise it would be the look and the usability of the case maybe? If the case was larger to allow all cables to enter and exit from the back and made of aluminium that would be great. For it to not look like an RPI package it would bring a little more class. It would also make it easier to dust.

It gets quite warm and although the plastic case covers most of the board it still looks quite exposed so again, to have this in a nice case would be really nice.

Also as noted previously, if you are going to assemble it yourself then do take care with the smaller connectors on the boards.

My closing comment - The Katana is a fantastic DAC with a whole lotta soul.