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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts from the audio Category

This is the power amp I’ve been waiting for. Does it live up to my expectations? We’ll find out below.

As usual, here is my current setup of my listening room. This isn’t really my listening room, but my bedroom.

  • Room
    Thick concrete floor finished with wood parquet. There are med-hard foam under the parquet.
    The ceiling is calcium silicate boards with rubber sheets cut in small pieces placed in between the suspension mounts, mainly to dampen excessive vibrations from tiny movements of the roof; these are not purposely built for audio, but to extend the life of the ceiling.
    Under the roof, there are hard foams here and there, acting as sound deadening.
    The roofing material is glazed ceramic.
    Walls are bricks covered with dense plaster.
    There are acoustic panels placed here and there.
    The window frames are YKK aluminum, rubber sealed (multiple). Just like suspensions for the ceiling, all window mountings use rubber O rings to dampen potential vibration.
    Basically, everything is built to last and to dampen vibration.
  • Power
    Wall outlets for audio are individually grounded. I use an isolation transformer before my power strip, PS Audio Quintet. Quintet has different zones for DAC, preamp and power amp.
  • Source + DAC: Mac Mini + Schiit Eitr + Schiit Modi Multibit
    Mac Mini is powered thru an APC UPS. Most of the time, I use iTunes + BitPerfect. I find no noticeable difference compared to Audirvana Plus. iTunes is huge win for convenience.
    Schiit Eitr and Modi Multibit are plugged onto PS Audio Quintet on the same zone. The DAC zone.
  • Cables
    I use mainly Blue Jeans Cable RCA when possible. By possible, I mean if the cables are exposed, I prefer to use better looking cables that I made myself. The materials are mainly silver-plated copper, silver soldered and terminated with silver plated RCA plugs. Basically the stuff ALO Audio is using, sourced direct from the manufacturer in Taiwan.
    For digital cables, I use exclusively Blue Jeans Cable 1505F coax cable and Sys Concept high transmissivity optical cable.
    Keep in mind that I’m not a cable believer, I believe, the shorter the cable, the better. I use boutique cables for their looks. And I’m just too lazy to sell them off.
  • Speakers
    Selah Audio Tempesta. A transparent pair of speakers. Enjoyable too.

Build Quality

I really think Schiit is stepping up the game. Vidar is noticeably better built compared to other Schiit products I own. The aluminum top is nicely grained. There is no gouge like I can find on other Schiit products. It’s almost perfect. Looking at the top part of the PCB, the surface mount parts used are neatly placed. Hopefully, I won’t find poor soldering job under it.

Schiit Jotunheim poor soldering job. Photo by Spritzer @ head-case.org

Modi 2 USB poor soldering job. Photo by amirm of audiosciencereview.com – Modi 2 teardown

The binding posts are high quality as are the input jacks. I welcome the use of a proper power switch. I dislike ancient switches. Power switch is unfortunately still inconveniently located at the back, thankfully, there is work around. I can control the power on and off from my PS Audio Quintet power strip.

The edges are nicely chamfered.

I must say, Vidar looks absolutely beautiful. Even better in person. Schiit styling in general is modern, clean, and good looking. You can’t say the same thing if you have seen Krell’s in person or even my beloved ModWright KWA 100. If there is one thing I would like to request for a change, it’s the sharp edges on the heatsinks.

Looks:
Vidar: 9.5/10
KWA100: 7/10

Sharp edges

Sound Quality

First of all, you must be wondering why I am using a puny Schiit Modi Multibit + Schiit Eitr. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a Schiit Gungnir. I was considering to acquire Gungnir years ago. But as I said before, I put a large chunk my budget on speakers and room treatments. Then an amp. Then a DAC. I will probably come around and purchase Schiit Bifrost Multibit, mostly for its upgradability.

I did run Vidar for two whole days, it’s not hot, it’s warm. So for those who are worried, the big-honking heatsinks will burn your audio cabinet, it won’t.

The chain:

  1. Mac Mini + iTunes + BitPerfect
  2. Schiit Eitr
  3. Schiit Modi Multibit
  4. Schiit Saga + Tung Sol 6SN7
  5. Schiit Vidar
  6. Selah Audio Tempesta

By using mostly Schiit products, I expect they have immaculate pairing.

They are very good. In my Schiit Saga review, I wrote that Vidar is a letdown. My tiny Wyred 4 Sound mINT is surprisingly superior. Yes, my mINT has seen more mileage but I don’t believe in burn-in and I’m not the kind of person who is leaving my gears on all the time.

No matter what I throw at Vidar, be it well recorded music (real instruments recording), it is inferior to mINT. In a way, I am a bit taken aback. With all the hypes Jason wrote on the Vidar page, how they seem to despise Class D amps… This Class D amp trounces Vidar fair and square. I don’t even use mINT’s onboard DAC, I’m using Modi Multibit and even running Saga driving mINT as a power amp.

My Wyred 4 Sound mINT amp section sounds better than my Vidar driving 84db sensitivity speakers. They are making noise that they dislike a Class D amp, well here it is, a jack of all trades integrated amp, running circles at Vidar.

Vidar feels slower, clunkier, and not very agile.

I’d say that this W4S integrated amp is like a light but fast European/Japanese sport cars. It does not have a huge amount of torque but when it accelerates, it feels like a dream. Its’ handling is also very good, going thru different passages are a breeze.

Vidar is like a typical American muscle car. Big, heavy, torquey. But it does not accelerate and handle well. It feels confused. (This has nothing to do with Vidar made in the US.)

W4S mINT produces better bass. Details? About the same. Vidar is probably warmer. mINT is very neutral. The thing about being neutral is that you can get away with mix and match. A lot of people are doing mix and match for the audio gears, to get better gear matching. I do not want to do that. It’s a hassle. I want a neutral sounding gear because you can play whatever music you can and all of them will sound good. The real differentiator is instruments separations. With Vidar, I feel like I cannot pick which is which. mINT has no problem at all at this. So, there you go, my preference is clear.

One thing that is very noticeable is instruments sound reproduction, this thing fails in a big way. My wife plays piano and guitar. She plays piano almost everyday at home, I know what a good piano sounds like. Vidar fails reproduce the sound of a real piano.

I like the talk Paul McGowan gave during his PS Audio BHK Signature amp intro on YouTube. He is striving to reproduce real instruments sound. What is it that Schiit is trying to do here with Vidar? As Dr. Gilmore wrote about Jotunheim, sounded like sh*t then, sounds like Schiit now.

Compared to ModWright KWA 100, coming soon…

Keep in mind, most people will probably be happy with Vidar, it’s just I have mINT + fairly transparent pair of speakers in my possession. And It’s not like I can get it of it easily. I was looking at one of McIntosh cheaper integrated amps. I love integrated amps. No cable clutters. Now that I own a complete set of Schiit 2-channel speaker set-up, I may regret the decision.

I think Schiit is very good at marketing. They are competent production managers but you can find a good production manager if you look seriously. How come their price are so cheap? Have you ever looked at their products solder joints, how they put together the products, and their smaller units build quality? Do it. I have, some have and they are not impressed.

I’m not a fan of Jason’s creations. His amps can be a hit and miss. His Jotunheim sounds mediocre (try A/B vs. Gilmore Lite, if this surprises you, if you have a chance, try comparing Ragnarok vs. Gilmore Lite!). His Valhalla 2 sounds decent but not great. But I do love my Lyr 1.

In essence, I really don’t know what they are after really. Are they trying to reach a certain price point and that’s it? You know, one other thing that I find interesting. On YouTube and 6moons, there are factory tours of amp makers. Of all of them, only PS Audio, McIntosh, and ModWright put a great care to their listening rooms. The rest of the packs, they simply settle with bare-bone listening rooms. This tells you why some sound great and others don’t.

Sound Quality: 5/10
Build Quality: 9/10 (with reservation)

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I wondered when Schiit would be making a preamp for speakers, it should have a remote. They went further. My favorite preamps are Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE and Audio-gd P-2. I love passive preamps. All they do is controlling the volume. I could have lived with the STP-SE but as I wrote previously, I don’t need balanced outputs and I prefer something with a small footprint. The P-2 should fill my needs but it’s *ugly. I end up with a Swiss-army knife integrated amp, a W4S mINT.

  • Room
    Thick concrete floor finished with wood parquet. There are med-hard foam under the parquet.
    The ceiling is calcium silicate boards with rubber sheets cut in small pieces covering the suspension mounts, mainly to dampen excessive vibrations from tiny movements of the roof; these are not purposely built for audio, but to extend the life of the ceiling.
    Under the roof, there are hard foams here and there, acting as sound deadening.
    The roofing material is glazed ceramic.
    Walls are bricks covered with dense plaster.
    There are acoustic panels placed here and there.
    The window frames are YKK aluminum, rubber sealed (multiple). Just like suspensions for the ceiling, all window mountings use rubber O rings to dampen potential vibration.
    Basically, everything is built to last and to dampen vibration.
  • Power
    PS Audio Quintet connected to a wall outlet for audio that is individually grounded and isolated. The Quintet has different zones for DAC, preamp and power amp.
  • Source + DAC: Mac Mini + Schiit Eitr + Schiit Modi Multibit
    The Mac Mini is powered thru an APC UPS. Most of the time, I use iTunes + BitPerfect. I find no noticeable difference compared to Audirvana Plus. iTunes is huge win for convenience.
    The Schiit Eitr and Modi Multibit are plugged onto PS Audio Quintet on the same zone. The DAC zone.
  • Cables
    I use mainly Blue Jeans Cable RCA when out of sight. By out of sight, I mean if the cables are exposed, I prefer to use better looking cables that I made myself. The materials are mainly silver-plated copper, silver soldered and terminated with silver plated RCA plugs. Basically the stuff ALO Audio is using, sourced direct from the manufacturer in Taiwan.
    For digital cables, I use exclusively Blue Jeans Cable 1505F coax cable and Sys Concept high transmissivity optical cable.
    The power cables are Zu’s, I can’t remember the model name.
    Keep in mind that I’m not a cable believer, I believe, the shorter the cable, the better. I use boutique cables for their looks. And I’m just too lazy to sell them off.
  • Speakers
    Selah Audio Tempesta. A transparent pair of speakers. Enjoyable too.

Performance

The Saga features relay-stepped attenuator. I am a huge fan of relay-stepped attenuator, also found in the STP-SE. Once you use this kind of attenuator, you won’t go back to ancient pots. For those who like low-level listening, this is it. Say good bye to channel imbalance.

Tube buffer? I love tubes, who does not? Vs. passive mode, tube buffer offers a little bloom. I feel passive mode bass extension is more precise, you can immediately notice the difference. Depending on the music I am listening to, vocals sound best with tube.

Saga is dead quiet on both modes, as expected. I have various NOS tubes, it’s fun to see how each one performs. And I guess this is the main selling point. I don’t believe there is anything like Saga in the market.

I don’t like to talk about price but in this case, I want to. Most of the time, you don’t get what you pay for in audio world. So comparing how an audio gear performs based on price is completely irrelevant. Yes, there are expensive high performing gears out there, but there are also cheap high performing gears that perform just as good if not better than expensive high performing gears. If I read one reviewer who says, “oh yeah, this USD 350 is off course performing just like how it’s priced, this USD 3000 gear is off course a better product.” I’d just close the page.

Even if the USD 3000 gear is well engineered, you need to calculate how much this expensive product maker wants to make in the first place. Things are moving at a much slower pace, they don’t have the numbers. Add to that the incredible efficiency that Schiit practice. Then there is the dealer cut.

I’ve gone thru this path, very rarely that I found an expensive gear that performs cut and above superior to the cheaper counterparts. Regardless of price, the Saga is a high performance preamp.

How does the Saga pair with Modi Multibit and Vidar?
Honestly, I feel like the Vidar is a bit of a letdown. It’s a great power amp, no doubt. Wyred 4 Sound mINT as a power amp is my preferred pairing. I will eventually write a Vidar review. Stay tuned.

Paired with the mINT, I can literally point out which DAC used at the time. It’s completely transparent.

Paired with ModWright KWA 100, the Saga is also very transparent. A transparent preamp will expose flaws in the chain. Modi Multibit is a warm DAC.

Build Quality

The first thing I notice is the aluminum top. It is nicely grained with the right amount of thickness. The corners are chamfered and finished without any noticeable gouge. It’s a looker.

Saga looks very handsome from a distance but when you look at it closely, The chassis has misalignments here and there. Not as bad as their smaller chassis but they can do better at no cost. It’s a non-issue for most.

I hope I won’t see these poor soldering job if I ever open it.

https://www.head-case.org/forums/topic/12921-schiit-jotunheim/
https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/hardware-teardown-of-schiit-fulla-v2-dac-and-headphone-amplifier.3154/
https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/hardware-teardown-of-schiit-modi-2-usb-dac.2082/

Let’s be fair, not everyone build their product as neat as Justin Wilson of Headamp. But bad soldering job is just sloppy and it looks like you want to make a cost cutting measure somewhere. I view buying an audio gear as a long term investment, an investment that hopefully last for decades. I don’t leave my gears active all the time like many do. So I expect what I purchase will last for a while.

I know many people like to frequently change gears but I don’t do that. Once I’m settled, I won’t care what comes out this year or the next. If I want to add another set-up, then I may set out seeking new gears. Besides, unplugging, plugging and moving heavy audio gears are not fun at all. After all, the goal is to enjoy the music, not comparing equipments.

This superb tube preamp gets my highest recommendation, whether you want solid state or tube, this will fit your needs. Passive preamp lovers? Checked! For the solid state guys, you may like the Saga as the tube buffer sounds like a superb solid state preamp. Sure, the tube buffer adds a bit of colors, you may end up liking it as much as I do.

 

There is no optical audio output at the back of the new Apple TV. It’s a big bummer for an audio enthusiast like me. I’m aware that there is a way around this but I need to have an AirPort Express, next to the Apple TV, connected to my DAC via its’ optical input or a powered speakers via its’ analog input. By having an AirPort Express in the audio chain, it’s going to add another complexity to my audio setup. What if the AirPort Expess goes bananas and I would have to fiddle with resetting or re-routing the audio output setting on the Apple TV to HDMI. I prefer not to use my TV’s HDMI to optical output. The sound quality is going to suffer.

I consider myself to be a minority user who likes to have the least hassle but also to have the best sound quality out of an Apple TV. But regular users will still face a major issue; with the older Apple TV, they can easily connect a separate analog audio line  to a powered speaker. Now, they cannot do it anymore with the new Apple TV. They need to have a TV with audio output jack(s). Usually, if the TV is not turned on, you won’t be able to pass an audio signal thru it. I have seen a lot of TVs without any kind of audio output.

you won’t be able to AirPlay audio directly to your speakers

I’m going to buy the new Apple TV but if I don’t like it, I’m going to return it. I don’t care about tvOS App Store. The UI looks awful. Now, there is a compelling reason to get myself a PlayStation 4. My Android-TV-equipped-Sony-TV might become my permanent Plex client.

I might buy the 3rd gen Apple TV just to keep it around for AirPlay.

Here are the scenarios that I’m considering:

  • new Apple TV -HDMI- Sony TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • new Apple TV -AirPlay- AirPort Express -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • 3rd gen Apple TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • PlayStation 4 -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • Sony TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers

I’m seriously leaning towards the last setup. Perhaps, I should add, I will be installing a Wyred 4 Sound Reclocker before the DAC to whatever setup I end up with to improve sound quality.

The almighty amp.

Pros:

  • Small, Light
  • All in one box: DAC, preamp, & amp; no more messy cabling
  • Easy to use
  • Simple remote control
  • Lots of input: digital & analog + USB driverless input
  • 100 watts per channel
  • User selectable voltage setting
  • IMO, pretty good looking box and very well made

Cons:

  • Not very musical
  • No phase inversion
  • Requires warm-up time before it reaches its full potential
  • Probably not upgradable

I really like the mINT. I will pick another unit for my second system.

Davone Audio Mojo powered by Wyred 4 Sound mINT

The photo above is one of Raindrop Audio’s customers set up. It’ll be my inspiration on how a high-end audio set up blends seamlessly into becoming a part of the room design. The Mojo actually makes the room looks (and feels) even better.

If Heed Enigma 5 is a non-directional loudspeaker, Davone’s Mojo is an omni-directional speaker. They barely sound alike. It seems Davone of Denmark positions the Mojo not as the best performing speakers in spec sheets but as speakers that you can easily love and enjoy and still have all the traits of a hi-fi grade speakers.

It’s like a pair of beautiful B&O speakers but without the sky-high price tag. It’s like a well sculptured piece of furniture that you can’t simply ignore.

The best part of this speaker is not the unusual shape of it but the sound that is always filling the room. I must admit, I was not expecting the kind of performance I was getting from this ‘smallish’ bookshelf-sized loudspeaker. Its’ single downward firing 5 ¼” long excursion woofer is surprisingly clean and a wonderful sounding one.

This will be my 2nd next batch. I’m falling in love with these new form of speakers. And I can easily see why, they sound so good and they really are that easy to love.