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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged Schiit

When I wrote my Schiit Vidar review, I didn’t expect Schiit to be this stoopeed. As it turns out, they have plenty of issues. I think it is best to avoid buying any Schiit amps at this point. Jason needs to take a very careful look at his designs.

Here is the link to amirm’s thread on how to fix hum/buzz issues with Jotunheim at ASR: https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/fixing-hum-buzz-issues-with-schiit-jotunheim-headphone-amplifier.3733/ 

No wonder my class D amp is running circles over class AB Schiit Vidar.

Here is Schiit Jotunheim measurements done by amirm of ASR: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-schiit-jotunheim-and-ifi-idsd-black-label-dacs-and-headphone-amps.3717/

The measurements above further confirm my preference of HeadAmp Gilmore Lite mk2 over Schiit Ragnarok. What a pity…

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This is the power amp I’ve been waiting for. I’ve pretty much disregard Schiit Ragnarok. Sure it’s an integrated amp, but there is no remote and the power output is only 60 watts. Really? Vidar might be a real giant killer. 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 / Wyred 4 Sound mINT
    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, Modi Multibit, and W4S mINT 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. Mounted on Sanus speaker stands with IsoAcoustics Gaia isolation feet.

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 still prefer chassis-mount RCA 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. The chassis is a very clever mix of cost saving and looks. Basically the powder-coated steel part acts as a base for PCB, transformer, and input/output jacks; the heatsinks act as part of the structures; and the L shaped nicely grained aluminum top finishes off the structure. 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 / W4S mINT
  4. Schiit Saga + Tung Sol 6SN7
  5. Schiit Vidar
  6. Selah Audio Tempesta

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

In my Schiit Saga review, I wrote that Vidar is a letdown. My tiny Wyred 4 Sound mINT is surprisingly and amazingly 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 and fuzzy. (This has nothing to do with Vidar made in the US.)

W4S mINT produces better bass. Details? Again, mINT is better. Vidar is probably warmer. mINT is quite 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.

After I wrote the paragraph above, I was thinking to myself, W4S mINT is really that good. Could it be just me who experiences these things? I fired up Safari. I found these:

– https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/opinions-on-wyred-4-sound-ice-amps –

Not one, but two similar impressions.

Yes, it’s its’ bigger brother. But hey, what are the chances of it being exactly the same other than the power output. One thing that I realise from downgrading to mINT from STI-500 is that I sacrifice nothing in sound quality.

I thought the weak point is the absolutely garbage Modi Multibit (this is by far the worst sounding DAC that I have auditioned, sounds like a mid-fi). So, I swapped the DAC, Vidar still sounds meh.

The other differentiator that is also very very noticeable is instruments sound reproduction, Vidar 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…
(probably not needed, comparing KWA100 with Vidar is just not worth my time)

Keep in mind, most people will probably be happy with Vidar. Schiit has a cult following.  It’s just I have mINT + fairly transparent pair of speakers in my possession. And It’s not like I can get rid of Vidar 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 nicely 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 hit and miss. His Jotunheim sounds mediocre (try A/B vs. Gilmore Lite, if this surprises you, if you have the chance at a local meet, 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 – avoid
Build Quality: 9/10 (with reservation)

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 smaller footprint. The P-2 should fill my needs but it’s *ugly. I ended 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. Mounted on Sanus speaker stands with IsoAcoustics Gaia isolation feet.

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 volume control, you won’t go back to ancient pots. For those who like low-level listening, this is it. Say goodbye to channel imbalance.

Tube buffer? I love tubes, who doesn’t? 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 find out 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 fairly decent 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.

Saga does not add anything to the signal path. Very transparent indeed. For those who prefers colored preamps, this is not for you. It’s fun to see how each DAC performs.

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.

Drawbacks

If there is one thing I would complaint about, it is the poorly chosen IR remote. The remote is awful; ugly looking and most uncomfortable remote to hold onto. Not to mention, its’ longevity.

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.

I’ve been trying to build a second system for the living room. I scouted many local audio stores. I didn’t particularly find anything interesting at any of them so I went to Singapore. Singapore is famous for its’ vast selections of high-end shops, including hi-fi audio.

Initial Plan

Initially, I was quite certain that I was going to buy Schiit Gungnir (DAC), Wyred 4 Sound mPRE (DAC + preamp), and ModWright KWA 100 (power amp). I’m already familiar with the latter and the former. The mPRE was what I wanted to audition. I was not going to buy them online or had them shipped to Jakarta without knowing how they perform. I didn’t plan on acquiring speakers other than Selah‘s. Dislaimer: I have never heard of how a decent pair of non-directional speakers sound like. The only way to do this is to audition them in person. This is why we need to support audio dealers. They help us make definite decisions.

Raindrop Audio

I visited Raindrop Audio in 16 Waringin Park. The store is located right in the middle of a suburban area. It’s a bit difficult to find, but it’s actually a good thing as it is far enough from city noise. They are the sole distributor of W4S in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Once I called them, informing I would be coming, they set up a listening session with exactly what I was looking for.

The setup: W4S Music Server – W4S mPRE – W4S mAMP (mono amp x 2) – Heed Audio Enigma 5 speakers

Heed Audio Enigma 5

Wyred 4 Sound Music Server & mINT

A Huge Surprise

I was already familiar with a few Wyred 4 Sound products as I’m currently using the DAC-2 and STI-500. This setup is different from any setup I have auditioned. It eliminates the need of a complete room acoustic treatments. Most of the time, with directional speakers, you need to set up the sound to be right in the middle of where the seating position is going to be. Even after the room acoustics are adjusted, you still can’t go around the room and expect the sound to sound just as good as at the seating position. The Heed Enigma speakers solve this issue. The sound is always full bodied and the resolution stays pretty much the same at different listening positions. There may be a slight degradation at extreme angle but I’m sure I will be more satisfied with them than with any directional speakers.

At Heed Audio, we have found that loudspeakers with a non-directional radiation pattern are best able to simply let the music into the room. At the same time, other things begin to happen. Rather than feeling compelled to sit rigidly in the “sweet spot”, it is possible to move to the right and left, forward or backward, up or down, and the music follows.

I came to Raindrop to audition Wyred 4 Sound and now, I think I’m going to buy a pair of Heed speakers. They just got a potentially long-term customer.

Heed Enigma 5

The Enigmas was not only excelling with little room acoustic treatment, they actually sounded pretty good. Ray, the owner of Raindrop played a few classical, they all sounded superb. As stated above, the sound was always full bodied. They did not sound thin or overly thick or heavy, they sounded just right. Usually, with complex passages and vocal, inferior speakers will definitely struggle, they are not inferior speakers, they are superb speakers. The Enigmas produced complex passages effortlessly. Vocal was also produced gracefully without any sign of glares and spikes. This sounds like to good to be true. Then, I looked at the speakers, the drivers are custom-made for them by Morel, one of my favorite brands. Heed does not skimp on build quality and it shows. After looking at the speakers, I went back to more listening sessions. The sound was never constraint. They sounded detailed, a bit on the warm side, full bodied, and never fatiguing. With opera, they sounded big. The soundstage was huge but still believable. The sound placement was great. It’s almost like I was being served by live music, with the performers performing in the room. Or better yet, it’s like listening in a jazz club. They sounded absolutely satisfying.

Wyred 4 Sound minis

No great speakers will sound good if not driven by equally great DAC, preamp, and amp. The digital front consists of W4S Music Server and the DAC section in the mPRE. I suspect, the W4S mPRE preamp section is a great one. Looking at the specs alone, it’s possible that it is equal or better than the marvelously good W4S STP-SE. The power amps are the W4S mAMP, two monos, powered by the newest ICEpower modules inside.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be buying them. I want to combine all those functions into one box, that can be found in a mINT. Hopefully the Heed speakers will sound just as glorious. If not, I can always purchase them.

The music server can be controlled via an iOS app. Ray was standing behind me during the audition and he did not even touch any of the minis in front of me. Everything seemed to run seamlessly. There was an ethernet cable connected on the back of the music server, thus no wi-fi signal interference.

As I said above, the sound produced by the speakers never felt constraint. The two mono amps never ran out of breath. Even during steep up and down, the amps easily drove the Enigma.

I like EJ’s approach in making the minis. They are pretty small compared to today’s huge hi-fi gears. I also like the shape of the box. It does not look like a radical new design, it is still utilitarian with more rounded shapes. The buttons are all well thought out. It’s easy to memorize what those buttons are for. There is a LED on every function. The remote is a cute and functional. Everything on the W4S minis scream quality.

Purchase Decision

I will be buying a pair of Heed Enigma 5 when I travel to Singapore in December. I suspect, most people will also be very satisfied with them as the sound is also a huge change compared to the usual directional speakers and you don’t need to invest heavily on room acoustic treatments. The only room acoustic treatment that Ray had in the room during the audition was a panel behind the speakers. Perhaps, that was a way to show that they only need a little treatment.

Photo by adiputraryan

Reviews of Sennheiser HD650 have probably been written thousand times. That speaks a lot about its popularity. It’s one of the most well regarded audiophile headphones and it’s been around since many years ago in the form of HD580. Since the introduction of planar phones, its popularity as one of the best performing is waning. But I feel like it’s not waning at all in term of overall sound quality.

This headphone was my first audiophile headphone and is certainly one of my long time favorites along with my Grado RS1i. They complement each other. Even if compared with the HD800, I still choose HD650. Why?

  • HD800 is astronomically expensive, considering very little performance gains you are getting with HD800.
  • HD800 is not a comfortable-sounding headphone. I prefer listening to RS1i. A lot of people consider Grado uncomfortable but the HD800 is more uncomfortable. I feel more comfortable listening to HD650 for hours.

I don’t know what Sennheiser is thinking about pricing the HD800 that high. Maybe that has something to do with it being assembled in Germany where labors are more expensive than in Ireland where HD650 is made.

Comfort-wise, HD800 is more comfortable than HD650 but it’s not a huge improvement. The look itself will attract people asking about it, especially spouses who will definitely ask what kind of headphone that is. Build quality-wise, HD800 is entirely made of plastic. It feels cheap for a very expensive dynamic headphone.

Since my exposure to speakers, I have significantly reduced my investment in headphone. I don’t feel the need of having a balanced headphone setup or a very high performance headphone setup. The fund for those setups will likely eat my budget for my speakers. It’s not going to be fun as well as I won’t be able to share headphone with my wife. So the priority is to get the best sounding speakers setup. Headphone is not going away, but the priority needs to be set right. I want a headphone that sounds like speakers. I want a headphone amp that is reasonably priced, made in the USA, and high performance. I got the amp and I have reviewed it.

HD650 is the only headphone that I find sound like speakers. It does not have all the speakers superiorities over headphone. What it has, is the the trait of imaging of speakers. No headphone does it as well as HD650. I understand now why people who owned HD800, go back to HD650.

The sound is also surprisingly well balanced for a headphone. It has a few weaknesses but the imaging alone worth considering over other headphones. Since I’m concentrating my budget more on speakers and less on headphone, I consider the price to be also one of the most crucial factors. At US$500, it’s almost a no brainer. You will be hard pressed or in fact next to impossible to find similar headphones at this price. A headphone setup does not have to be super expensive to be enjoyable.