Editor’s note: I love how Dave writes his reviews, and reading the first half of his review I get a good impression on how the new Asgard sounds: it sounds pretty similar to the old Asgard that I reviewed. I do wish that the solid state amp comparison was not with the ALO National since ALO is our sponsor and that kind of puts us in a difficult situation but Dave had no other solid state amp at that time, so I guess we’ll have to use what we have. However I realized that Dave also compared the Asgard 2 to the Torpedo which we really have no particular connection to. For the record the Headfonia Store is an ALO reseller but we don’t sell Schiit.
I wanted to love the Asgard 2. As soon as I found out Schiit had sent me a review sample, I had my pen ready to rave. There are two reasons in-particular that I was really looking forward to this. First, I get a kick out of Schiit. Their website is hilarious, and I love being able to support businesses that do their work here in the USA. Second, after doing two, DIY tube amp reviews, I was ready for something else. The fact is that, when a DIY amp stops working, you have to fix it. That may not be a problem for many, but is terrifying for me. Plus, although tube rolling can be fun; it can also be expensive and frustrating if you are looking for something rare. The simplicity of a solid state amp, with excellent build quality and a five year warranty is immensely appealing. So, believe me, what I am about to write brings me no joy.
But first, for those who don’t know, the Asgard 2 is Schiit’s follow up to their Asgard amp. The original Asgard was released in 2010 to some pretty solid critical acclaim. Many, including Mike, thought it was a wonderful, entry-level solid state amp. So this is Schiit’s attempt to keep the Asgard (2) at the top of the entry level heap. New to the 2 is a gain switch. On low gain, the Asgard 2 is quiet enough to use with IEMs. Schiit also added the ability to use the Asgard 2 as a preamp, so for those of you with powered monitors, there you go. Like the original, the Asgard 2 also retails for the wallet friendly price of $250.
The Asgard 2 has a sound similar to what I remember of the original Asgard: slightly warm, semi-laidback with decent body to the sound and respectable sound stage performance. It transitions from one frequency to another in a smooth manner, with no ugly spikes. This isn’t an amp for you lovers of aggressive treble, however. I found it to be slightly rolled off and lacking sparkle. At least it isn’t harsh. If I would pick one word to describe the midrange, it would be “fine.” They are nothing special, but not offensive, fairly clean, a little warm. The bass is well bodied, but lacking in control and impact. Headphones with loose bass, like the DT770 AE, aren’t a good mix, but if your bass is already tight and punchy, this shouldn’t ruin it. The sound stage is decent in size, but instrument separation isn’t a strong point.
In truth, my opinion of the Asgard 2 might be more positive if it wasn’t for the Torpedo. In fact, I can’t think of a worse amp to be sitting next to the 2. The simple fact is that every headphone I have at my disposal sounds better out of the Torpedo than the Asgard 2 (HD650, HD660, HE-300, SR80, DT 770 AE): better vocal presence, more open, airier, even better bass control. I didn’t notice any transformer hum with the Asgard 2, which is one advantage over the Torpedo, I guess. Maybe this isn’t a fair fight, however. DIY projects, if they are built right, often have a very high cost/performances ratio. Plus, the Torpedo is a tube amp. Perhaps pitting the Asgard 2 against a solid state amp of similar price would put things in perspective.
The nice people at ALO (thanks Josh!) were kind enough to send me the National, their portable SS amp that retails for $299. Both amps offer terrific build quality, and each have their strengths. The Asgard 2 is cleaner, more neutral tonally and has a bigger sound stage. The National is a bit darker, more full bodied with better bass impact. Does the Asgard fair better here?
Ehhh, not really. My beloved HD650 definitely comes to life more out of the National, as does the Superlux HD660, which rocks noticeably harder than with the Asgard. Due to its bigger sound stage, if you have a HE-300 and only use it for instrumental, the Asgard would beat out the National, but ALO’s little guy does a much better job with vocals. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 AE was a little dark for my taste with the National, but at least the bass is controlled some, as it is really bloated out of the Asgard 2. So, to make a long story short: The Asgard may have the edge in technicalities, but that is meaningless in the face of better musicality. More often than not, my music is more enjoyable when being driven by the National.
I really wanted to love this amp, and in truth, it isn’t bad. It sounded perfectly fine with most of the headphones I have on tap. The problem is that, after what I have heard in the last few months, good enough just isn’t good enough anymore. The Asgard 2 is good enough, but there is better.
Article photo courtesy of Schiit.