Today on Headfonia we’ll be taking a close look at the Asgard 3 headphone amplifier from Schiit Audio. The third evolution of the Asgard retails from $199 for the base amplifier-only version, $299 with an AK4490-based DAC module, and for $399 the Asgard will come equipped with Schiit’s proprietary ‘True Multibit’ DAC module as featured on our review sample.
Note: Schiit Audio kindly sent us the Asgard 3 for review in exchange for sharing our honest opinions with our readers. Our thanks go to them for the opportunity and for the quick, courteous communication – we appreciate the support.
Schiit Audio – beyond a joke
Hailing out of Valencia, California, Schiit Audio has steadily worked their way up from being an upstart start-up with a dad-joke-level pun for a name, to an established and respected player in both personal and two-channel audio over the course of the past decade. A disregard for conventional marketing tactics, acerbic website FAQ copy (well worth a read) and playful product naming conventions (I’m looking at you, Fulla) are but a few of the quirks that have helped to contribute to the maverick charm of the Schiit Audio brand. What has cemented Schiit’s reputation, however, has been their ability to deliver seemingly impossible value to customers in terms of performance to price while insisting on designing, assembling, and sourcing most of their parts locally in the USA.
Schiit products have become well-regarded among both novice and seasoned audiophiles alike, and their product line-up has expanded considerably in breadth and depth spanning headphone amplifiers, DACs, preamps, speaker amplifiers, and recently – a turntable, the ‘Sol’. We’ve reviewed many of their products over the years, and you can check out some of our previous Schiit Audio reviews here.
The prodigal son returns
While Schiit’s line-up features some truly impressive and diversified gear, including their flagship Ragnarok 2 headphone and speaker amplifier (reviewed here by Linus), the company had far more humble beginnings. Schiit Audio was founded by industry veterans Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat back in 2010, and the sole product they hung the hopes of their company upon at launch was the original Asgard – a $249 single-ended, Class A headphone amplifier with one set of RCA inputs, and one 6.3mm headphone output. The “OG” Asgard was superseded by the Asgard 2 in 2013 which retained the $249 price-tag but managed to improve on the original model by adding two selectable gain stages and RCA pre-outs to attenuate the volume of powered monitors or a power amplifier.
While the Asgard 2 managed to pump-out one whole, healthy watt of power at 32 ohms, by 2019 it was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. Also, it was starting to get shown-up spec-wise by its little brother – the latest iteration of the Magni headphone amplifier (now available in ‘Heresy’ and ‘3+’ flavours depending on whether or not you want to eschew Op-amps in the architecture). But the Asgard 2 managed to soldier-on for as long as it did and convert fans over other amplifiers thanks to its Class-A topology and warm, detailed sound.
There were two surprises in store when Schiit Audio finally unveiled the new Asgard 3 in 2019. Firstly, they managed to increase its power by a factor of 3.5, packing an impressive five watts of power into 16 ohms. And then, somehow they managed to trim fifty bucks off the price tag offering the new, more powerful Asgard 3 for $199. The new Asgard also got a whole bunch ‘smarter’ than its predecessor, following the path of its Jotunheim and Lyr stablemates to provide the option to include a DAC module into the expansion port slot on the read of the amplifier. Selecting the AK4490 delta sigma-based DAC card increases the price of the Asgard 3 to $299; customers who opt for the ‘True Multibit’ R2R/ladder DAC module will need to shell-out an additional $100 bill.
The previous Asgard models had been all Class-A designs, conducting 100% of their input power continuously. I’d spent some time listening to the Asgard 2 several years ago, and in addition to quite liking its sound signature, I distinctly remembered one memorable feature: it gets hot. As in, almost enough to keep your coffee cup warm if you keep it on top of it hot. The new Asgard 3 adopts Schiit’s ‘Continuity’ output stage shared with their Lyr headphone amp and Aegir power amp. It’s now a Class-AB design which may deter some purists, but loads of up to 500mW (probably more than most headphone use cases) will be biased to Class-A.
Upon the launch of the Asgard 3, Schiit was also keen to point out that it has a low noise floor as well as lower distortion than its predecessor, making it suitable for use with sensitive IEMs. How quiet? Well, here’s a quick run-down of the Asgard 3’s vital statistics:
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 2Hz-400KHz, -3dB
- Maximum Power, 16 ohms: 5W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 32 ohms: 3.5W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 2.5W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 600mW RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 300mW RMS per channel
- THD: Less than 0.002%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, high gain mode (worst case)
- IMD: Less than 0.002%, CCIF at 1V RMS, high gain mode (worst case)
- SNR: More than 115db, unweighted, referenced to 1V RMS, in low gain mode
- Crosstalk: Less than -82dB, 20Hz-20KHz, 300 ohm load
- Output Impedance: Less than 0.2 ohms in high or low gain mode
- Input Impedance: 22K ohms
- Gain: High = 6 (15.6dB) or Low = 1 (0dB), via rear switch
- Protection: Standard muting relay for delayed turn-on and fast turn-off
- Power Supply: Internal 48VA power transformer with 4 separate power supply rails and over 20,000uf of filter capacitance
- Power Consumption: 30W
- Size: 9 x 6 x 2″
- Weight: 5 lbs
The short version: powerful enough to make just about every headphone on the planet go very loud; and basically inaudible levels of distortion. Schiit seems to have delivered quite the ‘do-it-all’ amplifier on paper, and hence we were keen to put it to the test to see if the new Asgard 3 sets a new performance benchmark in terms of not only sonic performance but its ability to live at the heart of your desktop set-up and perform as “the only amplifier you’ll ever need”.
So how does the Asgard 3 stack up in the real world? Let’s take a look!
Head over to Page Two to continue our review, just CLICK HERE.