Asgard 3

Stepping up the game from the Magni

asgard3

Why not the Magni?

I gave the Magni 3 a glowing review, and said that everyone getting into audio should own one. I stand by that. Moving up from the Magni there's 2 direct options. The Magnius, and the Asgard 3. These both have substantial power overhead compared the the poor little magni with it's wall wart of a power brick. The big feature difference between these in terms of physical features is that the Magnius is pretty much 2 magni in one box, and balanced, where the Asgard does away with balanced in favour of raw power through single ended output.

Balanced is a meme, but it's also not

Balanced audio is quite common in microphones because it's power level is very low, and wire runs are long. This allows for EMI to be picked up in the wires, and balanced audio is able to completely cancel that out in hardware. Headphone amps probably aren't running 30 meter cables to your headphones. There are other reasons to run balanced such as if it offers both, it is built with balanced in mind. This means that something like the Magnius will have much less power out of it's single ended output than the balanced XLR. The Asgard is only single ended, and puts out full power from single ended. If you have only single ended headphones, then the Asgard makes more sense.

Why not moved to balanced?

Balanced does have other advantages, however small. Once you start spending multiple thousands on headphones, start picking out every micro detail at insanely loud volume through a high end Delta Sigma DAC's, ect, it can make a difference. The Asgard 3 is about one thing. Make things sound like music, and give you and enjoyable presentation. It's integrated power supply offers a much better source than the Magnius' PSU, which is still a wall wart. Schiit has done an amazing job with their wall warts, but to get the price that far down on balanced architecture, corners had to be cut. The Asgard 3 has access to up to 500mW of class A bias on it's power supply before finally smoothly transitioning to class A/B, which is what the Magni/Magnius are always stuck on. If you haven't heard half a watt strapped to your head, that's amazing, because you'd be at least partially deaf. Most in the audio industry agree that class A sounds smoother and more pleasing than class A/B, and the Asgard 3 will stay in that range during any sane levels of listening. If you need balanced and all of this, move up to the Jotunheim, but the price goes up as well for access to balanced.

Tested on ZMF Auteur (300 ohm), and Sundara (Planar magnetic)

Where will I hear the difference?

I'm not going to bother breaking this into low/mid/high. Across the board, the sound comes out smoother sounding. Not less resolving, not less detailed. Just more correct in ways that I had to hear to understand. Other than this, the presence of the bass, especially sub bass, comes through with much more impact, clarity and force. Punch and slam becomes headphone dependent at this point. On tracks like Bracelet - Fat Jon, the sub bass track is much more lively, and audible. Even Heaven - Aimer is weighty and has so much presence in the bass that I had to turn the volume down from what I was used to on the Magni. The high end was still as clear as day, even with a 3dB boost to the bass shelf at 50Hz on the Sundara, unlike on the Magni which started to show it's limits when I wanted to push that sub bass out, and it started to obviously struggle to push out any volume down there.

Not required, but nice to have

Moving directly from the Magni to the Asgard, the biggest things I noticed at first weren't even the sound. The Asgard on the desk is much more substantial in size and weight. The Alps pot for volume control is leagues better than that found on the Magni or Magnius as well. Their volume pots were small, not insanely smooth when turned, and a bit scratchy. This doesn't impact the sound they make once you aren't looking at or touching them, but it is something I noticed in use, and it does feel more premium. Not features I'd tell someone that you must buy this device for, but absolutely something I notice in real use, and had to note that I do actively appreciate these things. If none of that matters to you, just ignore this section.

Conclusion

If you love your sub bass, and have anything that is current demanding like a set of Hifiman Planar headphones or similar, this is a no brainer if you can make the budget allow it. If headphones in the $300 and under such as the HD6XX and Sundara are where you plan to stop, and you don't mind a bit of sub bass loss, it's hard to justify the extra cost coming from the Magni, but I'd recommend at least considering it if you want the extra headroom to hear other headphones above that price point. If you are ever near one of Schiit's physical stores, you can hear them both for yourself and decide. I personally wouldn't go back as the extra last bit of audible difference, as well as tactile feel of the device is just that much nicer.

Topping d90se

A whole lot of detail, even to a fault

toppingD90SE

Where to even start on this DAC. Features... All of the features... This is a balanced DAC, so expect to want a balanced AMP with this one. Inputs galore. USB, coax digital, optical, AES, and even bluetooth. If you have a thing that you want to make sound, this can probably do it. It can output both to balanced, or single ended, so this will work with pretty much any amp or powered monitors. It is built as a balanced architecture and will sound best as such, but it's nice that it offers both.

Running through the Asgard 3/Topping A90D

Bass

Compared to Schiit's offerings like the Modi, or Bifrost 2, this DAC handles bass respectably. I'm not sure which is more correct, but the body of the bass is not nearly as big or strong on the Topping. That's not to say that it doesn't sound great, because it's crystal clear. I'd put bass down to a preference on which presentation you prefer personally, but both sound great. The bass is... There, and it's fine. Nothing to complain about, nothing to rave about.

Mids

Where to even start here. Unlike the Modi that I'm directly comparing this to, there are different filter modes. Out of the box, it comes in "Mode 3", which seems to be a "Fast roll off minimum", which sounded brilliantly detailed, but very painful to listen to, almost like the audio was boosted to clipping range, regardless of volume. I quickly started playing with settings to make that go away as it was hard to listen to, especially on tracks with low dynamic range especially, which most modern music is. I tried several modes, but seemed to settle on "Mode 5", which is "Fast roll off linear". This had an impact on perceived detail, but made it much more enjoyable to listen to. Almost all of the clipping sound was instantly just gone. For very busy sections of tracks, or insanely fast notes, it did seem to blur the audio a bit, but it was fairly minimal, and at least not painful.

Highs

The highs on this DAC excede anything that I heard from Schiit's offerings. Cymbals, stringed instruments, the breathing of singers, and anything in the airy space is much more audible. I wouldn't say that it's louder, but there is just much more information that got lost on other DACs I've tried. Female vocals that extend well into the high range shine here in terms of details as well.

Conclusion

After many hours of listening to this DAC, I can say that I'm quite impressed with the level of detail that I've never heard out of my Schiit Modi, but subjectively, it is not as fun to listen to. If you want to suck some fun out of your music for the sake of finding details in there, this is great at that. It's what I would call an analytical DAC. It doesn't try to colour the audio, it doesn't try to hide flaws in recordings, or bad masters. It shows you every flaw in it's glory. It's default PCM filter of "Mode 3" absolutely was the worst part of this DAC. Once that was changed, it became at least listenable without physical ear pain for me. I personally wouldn't want this DAC in my collection most likely as it's too much detail and presented harshly. For the price and feature set, if you need the features, and don't mind a harsh presentation, I can recommend it, but I'll be looking into other solutions for my listening.

Modi 2 Uber

This Schiit is pretty decent

Modi2uber

What is there to be said about Schiit that hasn't been said by basically anyone that has ever heard their gear. It punches way above it's price range. I'll be comparing this directly to the Apple USB dongle as it's a great, clean, baseline to compare to. Every built in DAC/AMP will sound different on phones or laptops that have them still fit in, so it seems like a fair comparison to something people have heard, and are cheap to obtain, and my personal baseline for portable audio on the cheap.

Running through the Asgard 3

Bass

Comparing the Modi, which is an older AKM version of the Modi that they sell now, to the Apple dongle, it's instantly apparent that the low end was totally missing most of it's body. Schiit's house sound seems to be an emphasis on low end body. Not to say that it's boosted, but it feels more full than many other DAC or AMP products on the market. In most electronic music, it is very noticable that bass just feels like it's there, and commands attention. Not only the body feels like there's more substance, at least through what equipment I've tried, it has a bit more punch and slam. When comparing to the Apple dongle, sub bass exists. I don't have measurements to prove anything, but it feels like there just is no sub bass on the Apple dongle, even when put through an amp with more than enough power.

Mids

Credit where credit is due, the Apple dongle actually has decent mids. I wish I had more words to put here, but they are actually fairly close. If I were to really nitpick at high volume, there seems to be some slightly better layering coming from the modi in very busy tracks, but most music I can't hear much difference in this range. Clarity on both is great within their price range, and better that I have heard on many integrated devices I've owned, both phones and laptops. There's a reason I bring an Apple dongle everywhere, and it's mids, where IEM's tend to be best at.

Highs

There's little contest when it comes to highs. The Apple dongle just seems to fall off when it comes to the "air" region. Breathy notes come in with much more detail, stringed instruments, especially acoustic sound much more detailed. If you listen to a lot of classical, orchestral, or otherwise raw acoustic music, and have a decently detailed headphone, this is quite a big step up.

Modi 2 vs Modi 3e

Honestly, at $129, with the improvements that Schiit has added on top of the older modi 2 that I have, it's an absolute steal. One of the weak points of the older modi was they used off the shelf USB chips, and they had issues with jitter. Since the modi 3, they have moved to Unison USB, their custom built chip that helps out massively with jitter. This improves the sound quality to a degree, though it's not enough that I would say "You have to have it". I got to demo these at The Schiitr, and they sounded within margin similar to the Modi 2 uber I had at home, though they may have been more detailed. I can't say for certain as I don't have both in front of me to A/B test, but you aren't getting a worse DAC if you buy one new.

Conclusion

Honestly, at $129, with the improvements that Schiit has added on top of the older modi 2 that I have, it's an absolute steal. I won't sit here and pretend like I haven't heard better, but they were all well above this price, and only mattered with headphones that were over $1000. If you aren't planning on going in that deep, it's a no brainer if you want to get a ton out of your mid-fi setup from $100-1000 range of headphones, I can honestly recommend this highly.

Cayin RU6: R-2R USB-C DAC/Amp Dongle

R2R on the go!

ru6

Something a bit different coming from me here, but this is a portable DAC/AMP. I'll have to review this as an entire unit as the DAC and AMP can't be separated unlike most of what I look at. It's also not a Delta Sigma, so this is going to be a bit longer than usual. I'll try to break it down as far as I can, because this one is for sure not something everyone will like, but it is wonderful in ways that nothing else I've owned has been able to do.

What is this R2R stuff about?

I'm going to have to leave this at a high level as it can get pretty complex, but the long and short of it is that Delta Sigma dacs are what you are used to. They are the more modern way of creating a DAC that takes a bit stream in series and uses a chip to decode the data. Because the bit stream is coming in and being decoded in a chip, it's down to the chip to how it handles that data. Some chips have different modes and can be configured to how they read the data, including how much it rolls off the ends, or even just a brick wall filter. This can offer a "metallic" sound, or even harshness to the details. R2R in it's purest form doesn't do any processing. It just takes the bits it's been given, and decodes them in a resistor ladder. R2R is short for "Resistor to resistor". It wasn't until recent years that we were able to start producing resistors that were matched close enough to make accurate sound that can compete with Delta Sigma, and not need any fancy tricks like filters to get it to come out sounding detailed without the harshness of the tricks.

What is NOS and OS?

Let's start out with NOS and OS is "No Oversampling" and "Oversampling". Sample rate is about how much you are asking for data out of a source. The nigher the native sample rate, the more actual data is in the source to be decoded, leaving to higher detail. Oversampling happens in all delta sigma DACs to get the amount of data out that you have come to expect. Oversampling is like taking a 720p signal to a 1080p monitor. It will look nicer on a 1080p monitor, but there will be technically incorrect data from antialiasing. That doesn't mean that you are actually getting a better signal from the source, but using tricks to make you feel like there is more. Oversampling is very similar in that regard. There will be artifacts you get from the signal, and some won't hear, or even care that they are there, but true NOS doesn't have any of that. No extra extrapolation of data that isn't there will happen, and it won't sound nearly as harsh and forced as oversampled data. Which sounds better to you is preference, and both have upsides.

Note about this device and NOS mode

Resistor ladders have to be big enough to actually decode enough data to sound good without some oversampling. Due to the portable nature of this device, even NOS mode will do some oversampling, but it will do substantially less than when in OS mode. I will make notes of both modes, and call it "NOS mode", but don't think that's actually NOS. It's just less.

Overall sound

This device is very not like anything you likely have heard. No matter the settings, bass presence is much higher than even Schiit's warm sound. It's not insanely overwhelming, but if you have a very dark set of headphones, this is probably going to take it too far. It sounds much smoother than any Delta Sigma I've tried, no matter the mode of OS or NOS. It fits orchestral, acoustic, and most soft music very well. Female vocals come through with a softness that sounds much more natural than I knew was possible from a digital source.

Bass

Bass is apparent, and in your face, even on brighter headphones like the Sundara. The sound doesn't extend too far into the sub bass, but has an authority that somewhat takes over the rest of the sound. It's not insanely fast though, so it has a more natural sound when it comes to acoustic kick drums or similar. Electronic bass is controlled well enough, but I wouldn't suggest this for anything in fast music, especially electronic. Both OS and NOS modes sounded fine in this range, with a slight personal preference to NOS.

Mids

Mids are where this device seemed to shine. Vocals came through clear, and mostly natural, but you'll have to see notes in highs to see why I say "mostly". Mole vocals felt a lot closer to life, with good weight. Piano tracks in the mid and low range sounded like you had your head almost in the lid of the grand piano. Resonance and decay felt much more real. It's nothing like I've heard from a delta sigma, and is very much a "love it or hate it" sort of sweet sound that I've yet to find from a delta sigma. This range is what makes this device an interesting device to own, and had me hooked. In OS mode, this range appears much more detailed for stringed instruments, but loses some of the "real" feeling unfortunately. Both modes had upsides, and I can appreciate both. I'm glad that I can switch modes, and while I prefer NOS, there were some parts of some tracks that OS mode just made more sense, even though some of the life was lost from individual instruments.

Highs

Highs, especially the air region and above are where this device falls apart completely. In NOS mode, harmonic overtones of every instrument seems to just be missing. Female vocals have many harmonic overtones that really give them their sound, and none of that was there in NOS. In OS, a lot of this came back, but it sounded much more like a Delta Sigma in the previously missing range. I wouldn't call it super harsh like some Delta Sigma DACs start to get, but it did not have the smooth, natural sweet sound that the mid range had in NOS mode. I had said, out loud, "MORE!" more than once while listening to this device. I loved the sound of the mids, and just want more it was so pleasing. If you care about this range at all, this is by far the worst part of the sound.

But it's a portable!

While I can tell you about the sound all day, this device isn't something that just sits on a desk and can be massive. It's a portable, and it had to make some compromises to get the device this small. There's just not enough room to fit a full size R2R DAC without OS in it, and it's unfair to hold it to those standards, not to mention an entire amp has to be in there, as well as pulling power from a phone or laptop through a type-C port. For the size of this device, I can forgive many of it's shortcomings.

Conclusion

For "only" $249, this device is insanely affordable for anyone wanting to try the R2R sound in general, let alone someone that needs a portable DAC/AMP to power your demanding headphones. I would say that any headphone I tested on this from the Sundara to the ZMF Atrium sounded like it had enough power for the level of detail that the DAC could put out, and that's another point of recommendation. There's a lot of drawbacks to this device, and it's not a good general recommendation from me, but I can applaud the device for showing what R2R can do for this price, and portable. If you want a new toy to add to your collection, it's an interesting device, and it makes me very excited to get a larger R2R DAC on my desk, and leaves me wanting more, as it's just a taste of what R2R can do to the sound. For those that want a more "normal" sound, and care about the parts that this device lacks, a Moonriver 2 may be a better bet.

Magni 3

This may be cheap, but this Schiit isn't shit

magni3

So you just got your first set of decent headphones and need an amp, but you don't know what to get. If it's under $500, and you aren't looking to break the bank, I can't recommend this enough.

Why do I need an amp?

Everything that makes sound needs an amp, but why a dedicated amp is probably what you meant. Without being pedantic, this is the part of the audio chain that takes the sound from the very quiet "line level" and brings it up to audible volumes. The amps job is to give your headphones both the voltage, and current they need to not only get loud, but have enough power to control the driver tightly so it can make more than one note at a time. Unless you like hearing only one sound at a time, and not something as complex as music, this becomes important.

Voltage VS current?

Someone is sure to get mad at me for try to dumb it down this far, but to keep it simple, voltage is the part that makes it loud, and amps are what give it the control over the driver. Something like 250ohm Beyerdynamic DT 1990 resist a lot more than more common headphones in the 32ohm or so range, so they need more voltage to get louder. Planar magnetic drivers found in the Hifiman Sundara have a low ohm rating, but really take a lot of current to get the low end really going. Without enough current, you will lose a lot of the low frequencies, and there won't be enough power left to get the details out of the high range while it tries and fails to push the low end sounds.

Tested on ZMF Auteur (300 ohm), and Sundara (Planar magnetic)

Bass

This is leagues better than things like the Apple dongle, or even most of my integrated amps into laptops, phones ect. The Auteur and Sundara both feel like much of the bass region is alive and bass heavy music is much more listenable than most integrated amps. Bass doesn't feel like it goes on forever, but it's very enjoyable on most tracks, and is a very worthy step up from integrated amps. If you like bass, and you have something that's starting to get into mid-fi, I'd recommend stepping up to some sort of dedicated amp for this range alone.

Mids

There's not a ton to say here. I personally didn't hear a ton different on mids, but it's also one of the easiest ranges to get right, at least to my ears. I wouldn't say that it does anything exceptionally correct, but also nothing offensive either.

Highs

It turns out that when you don't have a driver that's starved for power flapping around, you can actually get a lot more micro detail out of them. Female vocals come through more clear, stringed instruments get their life back, and you can start to hear even the breath of the singers on some tracks, and not just the words they are singing.

Conclusion

For the cost of $99, I can say that this is one of the top recommended things I recommend to people after they start dabbling into headphones. IEM's being more sensitive means that it will play well with this amp, but headphones can start getting some actual use out of it. Both the Sundara and the Atrium sounded better without question on a dedicated amp to the point that I couldn't recommend them without at least the intention of getting something like the Modi unless you just don't like tracks with any bass in them, and don't mind missing details. Unless you want to step up to something like the Asgard 3, this amp has amazing value, and it even doubles as a preamp so you can control your speakers or headphones with one knob. What more could you want?