On the desktop
The team at Schiit call the Asgard 3 a “…complete single-box solution for all your desktop needs”. Well, technically that can be true if you happen to listen to digital audio via USB and happen to tick one of the DAC module options with your purchase. The review sample sent to us by Schiit happened to be the top-of-the-line multibit model, meaning I would be able to test the Asgard as a standalone DAC/amp unit. The DAC is bus-powered and was recognised immediately by both my Mac and Android devices without having to switch on the amplifier section itself.
The additional line-level RCA inputs allowed me to be able to connect the Asgard 3 to external DAC and vinyl sources, as well as to the analogue-out on my HDMI desktop monitor, meaning I could run console games and Netflix through it and easily switch between sources via the switch on the front, which was super-handy. Some A/B testing between both the onboard and external DAC showed the output level of the multibit card to be slightly lower than the line-level output of other DACs. I had to lower the volume of the Topping E30 by exactly 6dB to have a volume-matched level between both sources.
A muting relay means that the Asgard 3 takes around ~8 seconds to start playing music after being switched-on – this did confuse (and scare me) a couple of times initially, but it’s something you become accustomed to pretty quickly. Depending on how you have your desk configured, the rear-mounted power-switch might either be tolerable, or plain annoying. While I was happy to see the removal of the front LED from the Asgard 3, I often found myself not knowing whether the amp was actually switched-on or not, as the interior light is not easily visible from all angles. This can be further confused by the fact that your computer/playback device will tell you that the DAC is “on”, but then…no sound.
However, there’s one sure-fire way to know whether the Asgard 3 is switched-on or not: you simply need to put your hand near it. Like the Asgards of yore, the Asgard 3 gets hot. ‘Continuity’ output might sound like some new-fangled amplification tech, but rest assured that it still gets plain-old Class-A toasty. You’ll never be in any danger of injury by any means, but if you have a cat, they will try and sleep on top of the Asgard 3 while it’s switched on.
I hooked the Asgard 3’s pre-outs to the Burson Bang power amplifier which I currently have on my desktop powering my KEF LS50’s in a nearfield arrangement. The Asgard 3 Multibit made for a terrific pre-amp with the Burson Bang, the simplicity and tactility of its volume pot made locating and adjusting it a breeze. The imaging capabilities of the LS50’s were remarkably on-show using this arrangement, with a terrifically clear centre-image and great structure and definition between individual instruments.
Note: all the listening experiences outlined here were used with the Asgard 3’s multibit DAC section unless mentioned otherwise.
So far, the Asgard 3 has proven itself to deliver beyond expectation in terms of build and functionality, so the proof would definitely lay in its ability to deliver against its raison d’être: making headphones sing. The Asgard 3 enters a crowded and competitive market, but is also positioned slightly higher than the hotly contended ‘lightweight’ segment: at $199 for the pure amplifier, the Asgard 3 costs exactly double that of the Magni Heresy/3+ and its cohort of competitors, including the JDS Labs Atom. However, the Asgard 3 nearly doubles the Magni’s output at 16 ohms, and as is able to deliver just over one more Watt of power at 32 ohms (3.5W vs 2.4W).
As you and I both know, numbers on a page do not magically equate to good sound quality. What the Asgard 3 has going for it spec-wise however, is future-proofing. That kinda power will happily drive any kind of dynamic driver headphones, and probably most insensitive planars without breaking a sweat. If we’re looking at the Asgard 3 through the lens of buying “all the amp you’ll ever need”, then I can promise you that it’ll certainly deliver in the horsepower department. In high-gain mode, the Asgard 3 easily had the 600-ohm Beyerdynamic T1 into more-than-comfortable listening levels at 9 o’clock on the volume pot. The 300-ohm Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 required a fraction-less volume, landing at around 8:45.
The Asgard 3 impresses with its ability to quickly switch from brute strength on high-gain mode to displaying finesse and control in low-gain mode with low impedance headphones and IEMs. Both the 32-ohm Grado PS500e and the 10-ohm Craft Four CIEMs were able to be used with an absolutely black background, zero hiss, zero hum, and no audible channel imbalance whatsoever. Both the Grado and Craft Ears CIEMs had plenty of available play in the volume pot but never needed to go past 9 o’clock. There is seriously so much power in this amp that I feel that the knob will never even get close to half-way.
I may have been giving the impression that the Asgard 3 is somewhat of a blunt $199 sledgehammer of an amp thus far, but this is actually far from the case. In fact, the Asgard 3 sounds absolutely stellar. Only a short amount of listening is required for it to confirm that it sounds composed, lively and agile. In terms of tonal characteristics, the Asgard 3 has a rich, coherent tone that’s overall extremely pleasing, and genuinely musical.
vs SMSL SP200 THX 888
Describing the sound of a solid-state amplifier can often be a fairly straightforward affair – certain examples, such as the SMSL SP200 adds loudness with absolute fidelity, and that’s it – nothing but the truth. Whereas the SMSL is all ‘facts’, the Asgard 3 delivers all the same information but recreates it in a way that’s can keep you listening album after album without the coldness and potential fatigue that can come from listening to a brighter pair of cans, such as the Beyerdynamic T1. While the SMSL adds the additional convenience of balanced inputs and outputs, sonic preference will largely come down to individual tastes. However, the lower price of the Asgard 3 combined with its far superior volume pot makes it an easier amp for me to recommend – particularly if you’re looking fora less neutral take on affairs.
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