The Original Budget Desktop Amp Gets an Update: Schiit Asgard 2

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 Schiit 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.

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39 Comments

  • Reply July 22, 2013

    Dave Ulrich

    A little bit later and I could have compared it to the O2 instead, and I know there is no love lost for that one.

    • Reply July 26, 2013

      silver_85

      and versus the O2, how it behaves?
      who sounds better?

      • Reply July 26, 2013

        L.

        😀

      • Reply July 27, 2013

        Trent_D

        I prefer the O2. The Asgard has a bigger sound stage, but the O2’s is more accurate. The O2 is more detailed with tighter bass. The thing you must keep in mind is that the O2 adds nothing of its own to the sound. So, if your headphone is really bright, with thin mids, so it shall be. It becomes doubly important to make sure you have the right headphone when using the O2. I think it is a really good amp, myself. And cheap.

        • Reply July 29, 2013

          Mike

          That sounds about right from my experience with the original Asgard.

          • Reply July 29, 2013

            Dave Ulrich

            I really wanted to love this amp…

          • Reply June 4, 2018

            andrew

            I own the EL DAC and EL AMP and I also own the Jot and the Asgard 2. The El DAC and EL Amp are powerful unit. The sound is neutral to a bit on the bright side. If one likes the neutral sound of the Bryston which is clean, clear and has some attacks , the El DAC and EL amp are for you. Look no further. I also own the Audio GD 2r2 II. The Audio GD 2R2 is much so powerful DAC/AMP that I never can dial past 9 o’clock. Unlike the NFB series, the 2R2 sound is a bit slower and euphonic but that’s the best SS DAC / AMP I’ve heard so far. I call it a mini Krell FPB.

            There is nothing as SS amp sounds like tube amp. If you want tube sound, go with tube amps and SS amp for accuracy and attacks.

            I also owned a Vahalla and a Vali 2 but they do not have a tube sound so I sold them at a lost. Why buy a tube amp and it sounds like the SS amp that beats me.

            There have been a lot of marketing hype in the hi-end audio and it won’t stop now.

    • Reply June 4, 2018

      andrew

      I am not impressed with the Asgard class A topology with Mosfet output stage . Not too warm to too veil that I thought I had to have my golden ears cleansing. Unless one has a very bright or harsh sounding cans otherwise, the Asgard is way too old school that reminds me of the Conrad Johnson SS amp that kills the SQ of my Martin Logan SL3 .The Jot on the other hand is about alright. The cheap Chinese Dark voice OTL 336 SE is warm and detail but not stuffy as the Asgard 2. Just my 2 cents. I listen to the Jot ( XLR DAC version ) but the Asgard2 is just another piece of nice paper weight on my desk.

  • Reply July 22, 2013

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    A good read!

    One thing tho- there isn’t really such a thing as “a tube amp”- it is an empty term and doesn’t say anything meaningful in regard to sound. It’s the same as to call something a “solid state amp”. There are many types of solid state amplification elements and topologies that dictate how the amp would perform.

    The Torpedo is an unusual amplifier as it emplys the parafeed topology. It is vastly different from say, The Crack or Valhalla. The closest cousin would be ECP audio L-2.

    Good to hear that someone does comparisons to DIY amps! Keep up the good work, man!

    • Reply July 22, 2013

      L.

      Thanks! We’ll do our best to keep diversifying

    • Reply July 22, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      Good points. I should have just said, “amp you don’t have to build and does not involve buying vacuum tubes.”

      • Reply July 22, 2013

        Rūdolfs Putniņš

        Use this exact wording everytime!

        I have an interesting amp coming out of the workshop in the following month- the Sjostrom QRV08. If it turns out well, I might send it to Headfonia to have a looksie.

    • Reply July 27, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      Out of curiosity, have you heard the torpedo?

      • Reply July 29, 2013

        Rūdolfs Putniņš

        Unfortunately I haven’t- I did consider building it as my first amp but the measurements for the prototype and hum problems kept me away. Instead I went for the Dynalo. Now I’d only build it for novelty… Can’t really see if it has anything to offer me.

        The Black Diamond, however sparks my interest very much!

  • Reply July 27, 2013

    CH Liew

    HI Mike, I have a home built transformer coupled tube amp which (to me at least) sounds great with the HD650. Wondering if yourself or your panel of reviewers would be interested in a listen and review? Many thanks, Ross

    • Reply July 29, 2013

      Mike

      Sounds good, Liew. I’d listen to it but can’t promise a review.

  • Reply July 27, 2013

    KS

    It appears that Asgard (I) was considered a much better product in terms of sound quality and other aspects when it was released in 2010. Meanwhile, in the past 2 years competitors have come out with better products at this price point and therefore Asgard (II) currently does not offer that value proposition. Am I right?

    • Reply July 27, 2013

      Trent_D

      I would agree. The world seems to be changing fast. The build is still first rate, though.

      • Reply July 27, 2013

        Dave Ulrich

        Oops. I just noticed I was posting as Trent again.

        • Reply July 28, 2013

          John123John

          what….
          YOURE TRENT?!?!
          mind (blown)

          • Reply July 28, 2013

            Dave Ulrich

            Uh yeah. I figured when I started writing reviews, I should switch to my own name. Notice how trent disappeared when I started showing up.

    • Reply July 29, 2013

      Mike

      Yes maybe but what happened with the original Asgard was that Schiit changed some stuff and the later version is different than the one I used for the review. I compared the newer and the older Asgard 1 and found different capacitors being used, and gone was the big spacious sound I loved on the original replaced with a more congested forward sound. It was a disappointment for me as I actually bought an Asgard unit myself after enjoying the original version so much.
      Maybe the changes in sound had something to do with the DC offset problem of the original, I don’t know for sure.
      So the original Asgard was an amazing sound for the price, like a solid state version of the Bottlehead Crack, but after the revision, it was just another amp in the market.
      I think the original Asgard would’ve remained very competitive even in today’s amp landscape. After all not everyday you come across a $250 amp that sounds that good.

  • Reply August 1, 2013

    Aakshey

    Hi Mike,

    I have a question. Between Matrix M Stage and Asgard 2, which is the better one? Especially as a preamp? Particularly for mids and clean/transparent sound? What are the pros and cons of each against each other? And how do these two compare to Lyr?

    Thanks in advance

    Aakshey

    • Reply August 1, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      I was the one who did the Asgard 2, and I didn’t use the preamp feature (this isn’t powered monitoria.com after all). Are you just looking for a preamp, or are you going to be pairing some headphones with it as well?

      • Reply August 1, 2013

        Aakshey

        Both. In case you have no idea about using them as a preamp, then I would appreciate the differences between the three in regards to headphones of all kinds, primarily low impedance headphones and planars. HD 598, HD 600, K702, Mad Dogs etc.

        Lyr Vs Asgard 2 Vs Matrix M Stage

        Especially in terms of mids, transients/prat/crisp sound, transparency, soundstage etc 🙂

        Aakshey

        • Reply August 2, 2013

          Mike

          You’re asking for a lot of things there we need a separate review to cover them.
          HD598, HD600, K702, Mad Dog

          are all different headphones that behaves differently with different amps.
          And you’re asking for a comparison of three amplifiers all quite different from one another.
          And you want the whole scoop now instead of just mids and clean sound, you want transients, prat, crisp sound, transparency, soundstage.
          I think what you need is not a Lyr or an Asgard. You need a WooAudio WA5 or an RSA Darkstar or ALO’s Studio Six.

          • Reply August 2, 2013

            Aakshey

            How does the Lyr compare with the Matrix?

          • Reply August 2, 2013

            Aakshey

            And how close or far is Matrix MStage from Lehmann BCL?

            Which is the best non diy ss amp in $300? Which is the best tube/hybrid non diy amp in $300? Which is the overall best amp non diy in $300?

          • Reply August 2, 2013

            Aakshey

            And are all these a huge jump from Bravo Ocean?
            Bravo Ocean is a recent amp and current flagship and sells for $129 or so.

            • Reply August 2, 2013

              L.

              With the right source you probably can hear a slight difference. Oh and more trolling will be deleted 😉

              • Reply August 2, 2013

                Aakshey

                You mean a MStage or Lyr is only a small jump from Bravo Ocean? How is that possible? And can you reply to the other questions as well? 🙁

                Lyr is $450. Ocean is $129?!

                • Reply August 2, 2013

                  L.

                  Ok, last reply. Lots of the info you seek, if you’re serious at least, has already been talked about in reviews and comments.

                  There is a huge difference between the Bravo amp and a full size desktop amp (unless the bravo is modded). And between a $400 desktop amp and a $1000 amp there is another huge difference (in general). Please read about amplifiers in general and their reviews or go listen to units in local shops. You will learn a lot, we simply can not answer all your questions as they are too diverse and all over the place. Sorry and good luck

              • Reply August 2, 2013

                Aakshey

                And I am not talking of woo audio or alo. I am talking of jumping from Ocean to $200-450 amps I mentioned. Is the difference not night and day btw such different price ranges?

  • Reply September 10, 2013

    Mario

    Hi Mike,

    Have you ever heard the Mjolnir? What did you think about it?

    Regards,
    Mario.

    • Reply September 10, 2013

      Mike

      HI Mario,
      Sorry no I haven’t heard it.

  • Reply November 9, 2015

    Alfred Tolentino

    Does the Asgard 2 perform well as a dedicated preamp in a 2 channel speaker set up?

    • Reply February 13, 2016

      Amin

      Yes, I use it with Audioengine A5+, and they sound great.

  • Reply March 14, 2019

    Andre

    You negative reviews are FOS. The Asgard is fine for cans under 350 ohms; however works nicely with the Saga Pre Amp for 600 ohm cans, but for them I would suggest the Valhalla. At 600 ohms most of my Saga preamp and Asgard AMP is almost a full output but still works flawlessly.

  • Reply July 12, 2019

    Allan

    Just for the record, the Asgard 2 with some 95 Ohm Sennheiser HD8s make this little thing come alive. The reason I’m writing this is because the bass is completely controlled and absolutely astounding for the cost of this amp and headphone pair with these headphones.

    I also love that it also controls the top end nicely, leaving it intact but not in your face.

    I think it can be said the headphones matter, but with the right ones this things is awesome. I was going to sell it in favor of my Lyr 2 but I just can’t see parting with either now.

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