Packaging and presentation
To keep prices as low as they have, something has to ‘give’ somewhere…right? Schiit, being a pragmatic and no-nonsense company eschews any sort of frills in their approach to aesthetics, and this includes their packaging. And they’ll get no complaints from me whatsoever – after all, you only generally tend to interact with the packaging when you first open it, and perhaps later if you move house (or when it eventually comes time to say “goodbye” to it). The Asgard 3 arrived in a low-key Schiit-branded cardboard box securely suspended between foam inserts, and wrapped in plastic. Included inside along with the amp itself is the short, dryly-written manual and an IEC ‘kettle cord’ power cable – the Asgard 3 has an on-board power supply which does contribute to its weight, but it does mean you won’t need to stuff a wall-wart behind your furniture.
Build and design
The Asgard 3 will be immediately recognisable as belonging to the Schiit family of products to someone who’s seen anything made by them in the past. It features the same thick, folded aluminium chassis as the Lyr and the Jotunheim, finished with a high-quality brushed sheen. And when you pick up the Asgard 3, you’re immediately struck with the sense that you’ve picked-up something substantial. Its 2.26kg heft feels incredibly well constructed and gives you the reassurance that when placed on its four rubber feet on your desktop that it won’t be going anywhere in a hurry. It makes its diminutive brother, the well-built Magni, feel like a flimsy toy in comparison.
Schiit’s recalcitrance when it comes to putting a power switch on the front of one of their products is well-known, and it seems like it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. The classically Schiit power toggle sits on the rear of the amp, but thankfully there’s a couple of small concessions when it comes to ergonomics this time around. The gain switch (up = high; down = low) now lives on the front panel alongside the input switch that allows the owner to toggle between the line-level RCA inputs on the rear, or the USB DAC module (if installed). Unlike other budget Schiit products, the Asgard 3 has thankfully forgone a bright LED light on the front of the unit to avoid searing a tiny dot onto your retina whilst it’s switched on. Instead, an LED glows from within the unit, subtly lighting-up the amp’s interior as visible via the Asgard 3’s ventilation holes on its top panel.
The Asgard 3 is a single-ended design, and the sole headphone connection is a 6.3mm jack on the front of the unit. While some users might begrudge not having the ability to use other types of connection including XLR or Pentaconn, the Asgard 3 has more than enough power to make the additional power of a balanced connection somewhat irrelevant. Of course, different connector types can be as much about convenience-factor as they are about having access to additional power, but the Asgard very much adopts a philosophy of ‘brutal simplicity’ across the board: this is a big, burly, no-fuss desktop amplifier. Accompanying the analogue inputs on the rear are RCA pre-out connections, which are only functional if headphones are not plugged into the Asgard 3 – plugging in headphones mutes the pre-amp circuit.
Like the Lyr and Jotunheim, Schiit refers to the Asgard 3 as a modular headphone amp & preamp. The Asgard’s ‘modularity’ is by virtue of the removable panel on the rear of the amp that allows for the inclusion of one of the DAC cards available for selection at the time of purchase. Both the AK4490 and multibit DAC options are USB only – there is no switch, additional power supply, or other input options (such as optical or coaxial) to access the DAC card. It’s not apparent on the website whether it’s an option or not, but it’d be interesting to know whether the Asgard can accept the phono-stage card that Schiit sells as an upgrade option on other products. As a vinyl-lover, this could make the Asgard 3 a compelling phono pre-amp, complete with integrated headphone stage and pre-out volume control.
And for my last comment on the Asgard 3’s design, I’d like to commend Schiit for implementing a great volume pot – I understand that they’ve used the ALPS RK27 potentiometer. The large, tactile knob feels substantially more premium than the small, pokey dial on the Magni. It’s precise and allows for accurate volume attenuation whilst being easy to grasp at arm’s length on your desktop. If you’re tasking an amp with performing as the hub of your desktop audio chain, whether in headphone amp or pre-amp duties, you’re likely to be interacting with it all day. And if it’s pleasing to use from both an ergonomic and functional standpoint, then it’s an overall improvement to your listening experience.
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