In all fairness, I truly think that Schiit has done an excellent job of producing the these three models and I expect to see more good amps from them in the future. I actually was quite surprised to find myself ending up with so much love with the Asgard. From what I’ve gathered, people’s impression of the Asgard is just that “it’s a pretty decent entry level amp”. So when got the Schiit amps, I started listening with the Asgard since I expected it to be the least impressive of the three. I was actually so impressed by the Asgard then that I immediately tweeted my enthusiasm on Twitter. When I moved up to the Valhalla, I expected to be blown away, since OTL tube amps have that legendary buzz around them for producing the cleanest and clearest sound around. The Valhalla definitely offer more in terms of sparkle and technicalities, but I still choose the Asgard as my favorite. When I listened to the Lyr, my impressions were quite mixed, as I’ve written above. It’s not a bad amp, and it gives the best technicalities, but it just didn’t hold a coherent tone in the sound. Though all three amps are good amps, I think that the Asgard hold a special spot in the comparison not only because of its $249 price tag (hence best value for dollar), but it also happens to have the smoothest and most coherent overall sound, while hitting the bass and mids areas properly and even adding a superior soundstage to the mix.
The voltage swing of the Asgard is rated at 20V p-p, the Valhalla at 30V p-p, and the Lyr at 40V p-p. The higher the voltage swing is, the louder you can drive your headphones to.
I find that the Asgard is enough to drive the 300 Ohm HD800 to ear damaging levels. It actually can drive the Hifiman HE-6 to decent volume levels (and I think the synergy is better than the Lyr too, more body on the mids and lows, and treble quantity is just right), though it starts to have mild distortions on some passages on very loud volume levels. It should be a great amp for the HE-500, but I don’t have the HE-500 around with me at the moment. With a gain rating of 5, I also find the Asgard to be a great pairing with the JHAudio JH5Pro. Very small volume imbalance at low volume levels, and with a listening volume at 9 O’clock (and with the CEntrance DACmini, which is a fairly hot source), I get enough levels to control the volume. The ALPS blue pot is also very smooth through the turns. I also found the voicing to be very ideal between the Asgard and JH5Pro. I also find the Asgard to be the ideal amp for headphones that can use more body on the lower mids and lows, in this case being the Sennheiser HD598 and HD800.
I find the Valhalla to be excellent for headphones that can use a more lively treble (especially low treble-upper mid) for a more engaging vocal. It’s my favorite amp on the bunch for the Audio Technica M-50 and the Sony Z700, both of which really shines with a touch more sparkle on the treble from the Valhalla. Though having a gain rating of 8, my listening volume with the JH5Pro is actually at 10 O’clock, which is confusing since it’s higher than what I listen to the Asgard on (likewise on the HE-6 I can’t get as high levels as I do with the Valhalla). One explanation is the gain on the tubes, which is not always consistent from one tube to the next. Like the Asgard, the ALPS pot is very smooth and only suffers from a very mild imbalance at low volume. Control range with the JH5Pro is even better than the Asgard as the listening volume is at 10 O’clock. The Valhalla is an OTL design, and OTL designs are known for their inability to supply high levels of current, and so I wouldn’t recommend pairing the Valhalla with the big orthodynamic headphones like the Hifiman HE-6.
The Lyr has a gain of 10 and my first concern was how it would do with IEMs, especially sensitive ones like the JH5Pro. Although I can hear some slight noise on the Asgard and Valhalla at zero volume, it was not that annoying and I can easily ignore them. With the Lyr, however, the noise at zero volume is quite loud and noticeable. My listening volume is somewhere between 7.30 to 8.00 o’clock on the knob, and so the range for control is almost non existant. Not to mention the volume imbalance on the same ALPS pot, which was quite mild on the other two amps, becomes a much bigger issue on the Lyr. Definitely I don’t recommend the Lyr for IEM listening unless you’re using something very inefficient like the Etymotics ER4. When it comes to hard to drive orthos, the Lyr does the job much better than the other two amps. I’m not scared to turn up the volume for fear of distortion, and with the HE-6, things get really loud at 2 O’clock so there is plenty of headroom. The voicing is not the most ideal though, and as I’ve mentioned, I do prefer the voicing of the Asgard for the Hifiman headphones. I would imagine the Lyr to be a better pairing for the LCD-2 headphones as it helps adds treble presence.
– UPDATE –
I also found that the Asgard is a very nice amp for both the Hifiman HE-500 and the Hifiman HE-4 headphones, though not powerful enough for the HE-6.
GEARS USED FOR REVIEW
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, HD598, Hifiman HE-6, HE-500, Sony MDR V-700, Audio Technica M-50, JH5Pro.
- Source: CEntrance DACmini, HRT Music Streamer II+, Meier StageDac.
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