Schiit Mjolnir - Reviews and Impressions Collected
There are presently two reviews of the Schiit Mjolnir available. I am sure more will follow, but until then, this wiki may serve as a resource for people trying to get an idea about this product
1) Schiit Mjolnir Review by Purrin HEREReview 1 (Click to show)
I figured I’d write a proper review of the Mjolnir since “Mjolnir = WIN, EPIC” doesn’t exactly cut it. I’ll keep it short. I hate writing these things, since differences between amps are so much more subtle than that of headphones. I’ve had the Mjolnir long enough now to be sure of my impressions (and have them even out over different listening sessions and moods.)
Let me start with the “laid back” vs. “assertive” thing. Some amps are more laid-back others are more forward, aggressive, or let’s assertive. Forward may imply headstage, aggressive may imply something that’s unlistenable. So I am using the term assertive. The list below is copied directly from a HF post of mine with some minor changes:
“WTF SKYLAB” (Skylab, if you read this, please don’t take this personally!)
AMB B22 2ch DIY build
AMB B22 4ch (various)
DNA Stratus (with Chinese tubes)
BHA-1 (after 2 months burn-inhard to tell, keeps changing)
Eddie Current S7 (with Anax's tube set)
Eddie Current BA (with the current tubes I'm running)
Matrix Quattro Amp
“SOLID-STATE GONE TERRIBLY WRONG”
I put a “.” as a marker to indicate a little jump. Take the above list with a grain of salt. It is very general and doesn’t consider specific or nuanced qualities of each amp. It should be noted that these conclusions were arrived at by making sure the tube amps were turned on for at least one hour and the solid-state amps were on for at least four hours. It seems the longer the Mjolnir is on, the smoother and more involving it sounds. This differences were arrived at using the BA as a reference. I will let Anax corroborate such wild claims if he so chooses.
My personal preference is toward the the “assertive” sounding amps. I don’t like sleepy or overly polite sounding gear. As we can see, I’ve put the Mjolnir on the more assertive sounding side of amps. Hence the Six-Moonish-esque phrase I coined: “dogmatically vigilant”. As Anax mentioned, the Mjolnir is like going to a rock concert, it’s going to keep you awake. It’s dogmatic, because it’s not going to gooooo the **** out of your HD800 into something it was never meant to be in the first place.
Now why would I care about the Mjolnir if I already had the BA? Well, however great the BA is at the spacious, openness, and micro-dynamic thing, it’s not perfect. Being a tube amp, the bass is always going to be a little bit rounded. Some tube aficionados may not hear this weakness, but others such as myself do. Ultimately, the point is that my version of the BA (PX4 or the modified PX25 version) still has a hint of that bass roundedness. Measured harmonic distortion for my BA at 0.5V into a 50ohm load at 100Hz is about 0.25%. Hardly bad for a tube amp. But I hear it.
As a quick side note, the Arete/Peak had excellent bass control and were super clean, but those amps were just a bit too assertive and etched for my taste. They also worked poorly with high sensitivity headphones like the W3000ANV because of noise. I feel the Arete/Peak are best matched with DACs which I feel are on the gooey side. It comes as no surprise to me that Todd at TTVJ owns one of these DACs as his reference. That being said, a few people who I know and respect love the Arete and Peak.
In terms of the combination of clean, explosive, powerful, extended, and controlled bass, the Mjolnir is only bettered by the Dynahi. The Dynahi has slightly more oomph and sounds more relaxed while doing it. If I get a chance, I’ll measure the Mjolnir and Dynahi bass distortion the same way as I did the BA. I bet the bass distortion results will be incredibly clean.
The final tuning of the production Mjolnir is shifted it down a notch from the assertive side found what I heard at T.H.E SHOW. As it currently is, the stock HD800's sound should range from slightly annoying to incredibly annoying. That’s because the stock HD800 does sound slightly annoying to incredibly annoying! Only the Burson HA160 makes the HD800 OK, but at great cost in other technicalities. Everything else I threw on it was superb (see headphone list at bottom.)
So all else aside, why I do love this amp? Because it sounds so involving. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but Jason supposedly said something along the lines that the Mjolnir is an amp that makes him not miss tubes. I wish he hadn’t said it so I could have said it first. I got my first hint of this, not at The Village Meet (the Mjolnir at that meet was supposedly just assembled the night before and it sounded bassy as hell, all over the place, and pretty much like ****), but at T.H.E. SHOW in Irvine, CA. (Kudos to Schiit for having real music available, and not that audiophile guitar instrumental garbage. Death to audiophiles who like audiophile music!) What struck me then was how involving the Mjolnir (+ Gungnir) was to me. It’s the kind of effect that makes us want to keep listening and not put the headphone down.
When I compared to the BA ($4000 + modified + $2000 vintage DHTs, if you can find them), the BA still renders those those micro-details and microdynamics better, and still has better instantaneous-dynamic-constrast and speed, etc. These aspects of sound reproduction are what constitutes “involvement” for me and what I hear in the best full tube amps such as the BA or HEV90. The fact that the Mjolnir, a solid-state amp at $750 can bring significant hints of this “emotional involvement” effect to the table, is simply amazing. Anax, who is not as familiar with the amp as I, having had a good listen to the Mjolnir (with the BA next to it), during our HD800 mod experiments, finally recognized: “Now I understand why you like it.”
I shouldn’t forget to point out that when I picked up the Mjolnir from the post office, I kept the headphones on until past midnight (taking a small break to help put the kids to bed... err, I think I just ignored the rest of my family that day). Those who know me know that I simply don’t do that with gear that sounds like **** or even merely OK. I know, I know, many HF's get all pissed off when people like me dismiss **** after 10 seconds. But then again, I've heard it all, I've built speakers that kick the **** out of 90% of the overpriced the crap at T.H.E. SHOW. I'm sure it doesn't take Michael Shumacher or JPM to figure out in 10 seconds that the chassis of race car is gonna be ****.
Up to now, I’ve hated most solid-state amps because I’ve found them too flat sounding and too compromised on the involvement factor. This is interesting because more than a few knowledgeable folks have opined that this is not necessarily a tube vs. solid-state thing, but rather a topology thing. Heck, I’ve done enough experiments and amp mods myself to know that up to a certain point (like when the amp is going to explode) less feedback equates to better sound but worse measurements. Maybe it’s this circlotron circuit thing at work?
So basically, the the Mjolnir and Dynahi are currently my favorite solid-state amps, with me giving the Mjolnir an edge because its presentation suites my preferences.
DAC: PWD2 firmware 2.02 USB and coax from PC, NativeX, Auto Filter
Other Amps: ECBA TS BGRP + Osram PX25, KG Dynahi, Bryston BHA-1
Other References: T2DIY + STAX SR007 / HE Audio Jade (modified, but falling apart)
Headphones: HE400, HE500, HE5, W3000ANC, HP1000, LCD2r2 (B Grade), 13 different mods of the HD800
IC Cables: Whatever I could find.
Power Cables: Eat my shorts.
P.S. Make sure you use a DAC with real balanced differential outputs. (Lots of audiophile CD players tend to cheap out and use opamp phase splitters for the balanced outs.) This amp will actually make use of the differential outputs. It's actually got a 4-gang potentiometer.
I'm pressed for time these days, so this will be brief compared to my previous review (Mid-fi shootout), my apologies.
Here we have a pair of solid state balanced amplifiers, the first entry in the headphone space for the speaker amp stalwart Bryston and the latest in a string of hits from Schiit. New to me, as well, is the Schiit Gungnir, their second DAC, the first balanced. As such, I took plenty of time (over 2 weeks) letting them play in, and getting used to their sounds. All the gear you see in the picture above now has over 300 hours of play eliminating any burn in issues. I've been on a quest lately to explore solid state after having been strictly tubes since returning to Head-fi in 2009, and these are the latest in pick ups. As most of you know, I have no stake in the outcome of any product and call it as I hear it. I approach any gear with as little bias as possible, giving each piece the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it's a piece that's been dogged on here and has to prove it's not, but on the other side are pieces that are lauded that have to prove to me they are worthy of that praise. I've been surprised many times both ways and have learned the 'clean-slate' approach works best. To date I have to admit I have not been impressed with any of the Schiit amps I've heard at meets, but firmly believed that would change with the Mjolnir and it has indeed. The Bifrost is an excellent entry DAC, that, next to the Gungnir, shows it's price tag, but still is the DAC to beat at it's price range. The Gungnir takes the strengths of the Bifrost and fills them out. The Bifrost is a clean neutral DAC, though not overly resolving. The bass is tight, well controlled, and the mids are exceptional. Compared to my old Cambridge DACMagic the Bifrost was an order of magnitude better. The Gungnir brings up the bass response and gives much more detail, things these balanced amps and headphones (and ears!) crave. The Sennheiser HD800 is not bass light at all with this DAC and either of these amps. Deep primordial bass that comes from nowhere and everywhere, but at a volume that is tasteful and realistic, detail that will have you looking over your shoulder or opening your eyes trying to figure how the fingering pattern the guitarist "sitting" in front of you is using. With the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors this DAC and amp pair help the weakness of the UERM, top end sparkle, but still leave a little to be desired. The resulting holographic image while using this setup is hard to explain and is more an experience than something you just listen to. It's incredible.
There is a vast difference in topology in these amps, but I am, unfortunately, not well enough versed to give you an explanation. The origin of this difference is the nature of balanced topology. I won't get started with a debate that could consume the review taking it down a path I do not wish to pursue, but suffice it to say, each side has it's advocates. Please refrain from this topic in any comments.
Having owned the Bryston BHA-1 for a few months now I've grown accustomed to it's sound; slightly bright with an attack that feels almost harsh, but not. It is a very aggressive amp that keeps the pedal to the floor at all times. There is never any hesitation, no clutter in dense passages, and positioning is top notch. With demanding headphones like the HD800 and UERM, any deviation is quickly noted. The Mjolnir, right out of the box, impressed. It has a silky smooth signature but is not at all laid back. There is no hint of harshness and the sound from top to bottom is well presented. Bass is tight and deep, mids are clear providing excellent vocals. Highs are excellent as well, but I can't help feel a lack of sparkle compared to the BHA-1. The BHA-1 really sizzles, so if you are sensitive to highs, beware, however I have been a card carrying member of this group in the past and have no issues with the BHA-1 with the HD800, both of which are known for their treble activity. In fact, I believe it is this treble activity that gives the BHA-1 some breathing room from the Mjolnir when it comes to ability. This sense of air, delicacy, pin point precision follows down the octaves painting a life like sound stage, timbres, and textures. I have heard several high end electrostatic headphone setups and so far I've not found anything more real than the BHA-1 mated with the HD800. These electrostatic setups have the edge in detail, of course, but presentation is off, feeling like my head is trapped in a small box, sound coming from the sides of my head instead of in front. The BHA-1 and HD800 being the most real has it's downsides, of course. This pairing is not the best for poor recordings. Even some of my 320k/s mp3s from bands I love, but cannot get higher quality versions of, are noticeably poor in rendering. Artifacting in the compression process is easily detected, and in some cases intrusive. Imperfections are magnified and thrown in front of you such that you can't miss them. With the Mjolnir, the HD800 has the edge taken off just enough to be friendly with poor recordings, but still be very detailed. The sound is forceful but smooth, a nudge to get you moving instead of a bulldozer knocking you out of the way. Tonally the amps are remarkably similar. There seems to be no difference in bass or mids and only that small difference in the treble I mentioned before. Given enough time distracted, I often forget which amp I'm plugged into until I listen closely or look over.
The amps are more similar in size than I expected. The width is almost the same, but the Schiit amp is a good bit less deep. The Mjolnir and Gungir both dwarf my Bifrost by a large margin. You could fit the Bifrost in the left side of the Mjolnir and not even reach the volume knob. Their heat output are also very similar, both very hot running amps. With the Mjolnir stacked on the Gungir, the space between is actually hot, like don't put your finger there hot. As far as looks go, I prefer black, but I also prefer Schiit's styling. In this case the Bryston package is good enough that the black ends up making it my choice. If Schiit could make a black amp where the text looked good, I would be all over that (from an aesthetic perspective).
Now we get to the real difference in these amps, the price. The Schiit Mjolnir is readily available at $750 from Jason and company, a great crew of business men and women who go far beyond the extra mile to take care of their customers and prospective customers. The Bryston BHA-1 is available through some of the Head-fi sponsors for $1295 who take similar steps to satisfy their customers. In this review we have two winners, but for different things. I believe, for the money, the Mjolnir is the best amp present. At the same time, I believe the BHA-1 is the best performing amp present, but at a high cost difference. What's more, the difference in sound will be to taste, and with their sounds being so close, there's no way I can say for sure you will like the BHA-1 more than the Mjolnir. Ever since getting both balanced amps running their laps, I've been struggling to put my thoughts to words, which should tell you how close they are. The Mjolnir comes with the standard Schiit 5 year warranty, the BHA-1 the standard Bryston 20 year warranty.
Thanks for your interest, I hope you enjoyed.
TLDR: The Mjolnir is hard to beat. For the money it is my pick. For a significant increase in price, I feel the BHA-1 is a better performer if your budget can stand it.
For the record, I purchased all devices used in this review with the intention of keeping the winner and selling or returning the loser. I didn't even know if the Gungnir would be a noticeable improvement until I heard it the first time, so that was a question at first, as well. I have decided to keep the Bryston BHA-1 and Gungnir and return the Mjolnir and sell the Bifrost. I look forward to the next level from Schiit to pit against the BHA-1 and any gains on the Gungnir would be truly remarkable. I cannot find any faults with it whatsoever. Bring it on, Jason!
Below are some intitial impressions written by Mjolnir-users from the Schiit Mjolnir-thread
Solude on Mjolnir
Trafomatic: Probably the most Mjolnir of the bunch, similar tonal balance, slightly less detail, greater staging, similar separation
http://www.head-fi.org/t/603218/schiit-mjolnir-headphone-amplifier/450#post_8589582 - post #457 of 1771 8/5/12
For detail-critical listening (especially mixing work,) the M has it all. For tubey goodness, the L. Hope this helps.
1) http://www.head-fi.org/t/603218/schiit-mjolnir-headphone-amplifier/1290#post_8708414 - post #1295 of 17679/18/12
2) http://www.head-fi.org/t/603218/schiit-mjolnir-headphone-amplifier/1185#post_8699330 - post #1196 of 17679/15/12
A brief sum-up *)
Burson Soloist is slightly more "hifi" than the V200, and since the LCD-3 has a less prominent midrange presentation than LCD.2 - then Soloist a good match for the LCD-3.
Mjolnir is COMPLETELY different than the others. All the other sounds natural - but Mjolnir is the natural reference. Amazing bass. Very wide soundstage. The vocals is pulled forward (which again suits the LCD-3). I would say the Mjolnir is placed between the Soloist and V200 when it comes to "light / dark".
I would assume 80% of all head-fiere would buy Mjolnir on site after a demo. Fewer would have done the same with the V200, Soloist, PSii and G100.
What to do after a few months is still an unknown.
The Soloist is less fun than the Mjolnir. I could fall asleep listening to the Soloist with some good music playing (i.e. a good thing actually). I would really strive to get some sleep using the Mjolnir.
Having switched back and forth between the Soloist and the Mjolnir (using the LCD-3 and DAC V800), the difference in the amplifiers sound signature is significant. I would dare to say that the Soloist is "boring" and the Mjolnir is "engaging". And in addition, the Soloist is de facto tuned a tad more bright than the Mjolnir. That does not mean the Soloist is bright.
The soundstage depth of the Mjolnir is less than the Soloist. The width not that different - if you listen carefully. The "lack" of depth of the Mjolnir tends to impose the impression that the Mjolnir sounds wider...
Disclaimer: Long time listening impressions.
A) neutral (although exactly what that means is harder to define than it should be)
B) Lots of slam and PRAT assuming the source is providing it.
C) If the source provides the imaging it will allow it through and then it's largely up to the headphones. For instance the HD800 tends to have slightly more diffuse imaging than something like the HE-5LE or D7100.
D) I don't known how to separate this from the sound of the source. The sound I get is smooth and musical with no harshness.
The Mjonir is more resolving and reveals more detail but is also drier. Images are clearer with cleaner edges. It does a better job of unraveling complex music with a lot of layering. It better handles large dynamic swings. It generally does a better job of presenting stage depth.
The Peak generally provides a more diffuse sounding image which can actually be more realistic sounding at times. In comparison to the Mjolnir it has a hard time when things get complex. It conveys subtlety and emotion better.
I didn't really notice much difference in soundstage width but I was focusing on which amp I enjoyed more for a particular piece of music and I find that after a certain point soundstage width doesn't really make that much difference in that regard.
I didn't notice either amp imposing a particular tonal color on the music.
So which amp did I prefer? Well … it depends. If the music has complex layering like electronica, big dynamic swings like large scale orchestral or relies primarily on energy to convey its message like rock I preferred the Mjolnir. However, if the music relies on emotion, lyricism and subtlety I found I preferred the Peak. I do feel the Mjolnir does seem to be the more technically pure amp but both amps are really very good and the Peak does do a good job of straddling the line between technical purity and tube based romanticism. Of course, given that the Mjolnir is $750 vs the Peak/Volcano at ~$2300 it really is an extremely impressive piece.
http://www.head-fi.org/t/603218/schiit-mjolnir-headphone-amplifier/480#post_8592392 - post #493 of 1771 8/6/12
I can't stress enough just how convincing the Mjolnir+T1 pairing really is. It's a match made in heaven for sure. There is a very flat sound signature, unlike the V shape of Burson units. The Burson units sort of put the vocals "outside" your head ,but they are actually hurting the SQ in the end. The Mjolnir is more of a " \ " bass tipped curve, but doesn't drown out those ever-so-fine treble details and transients. That means a very flat frequency response for those neutral-nazi people out there. However, it doesn't try to get in the way of the music like Burson and others do. I'm done searching for headphone equipment for atleast a year, I might occasionally login to headfi now. That is the only compliment a manufacturer needs. Yulong D18/Mjolnir/Beyer T1 combo = Peace out HeadFi. Thank you Schiit!
I have never heard Senn Hd 800's so I couldn't really say how they would sound with either amp--but from what I have read about the sizzly high end of the 800's I would suspect they would sound more bright with the Bryston than the Mjolnir--
So far the Mjolnir sounds to me more full sounding with slightly more presence across the whole spectrum--
But again that is my impression and Jason say's to get at least 50-100 hours on it before any critical evaluations or comparisons--
Still haven't tried my LCD 2's yet but really liking the 650's with this amp...
This amp is a totally phenomenal bargain at $749.00--remember the Bryston is $1295.00!!!
edit: I'm finding the Mjolnir sounds significantly better once it's had time to warm up. The LCD-2 is nice through the Mjolnir, but this Schiity amp elevates the HD800 a few rungs above imo. The clarity of every element and coherence of the overall presentation is something to behold. Also, this amp should obliterate the "HD800 has no bass" myth. Anyone clinging to that view after hearing these components should not be trusted. Ever.
I'd love to combine these amps.
The Mjolnir was a fun listening experience, but I felt that its focus and articulation were slightly softer than the Burson. Burson's images were slightly weightier and better defined, particularly down low. Burson also has more treble energy, whereas the Mjolnir has a smoother top end.
However, listening to tbe Burson, the soundstage was quite tightly walled-in, whereas with the Mjolnir, the walls literally fell away, creating a much more free, speaker-like presentation. I loved this about the Schiit amp.
This has me looking very much forward to the 'Statement' amp at year's end.
I'm finding the Mjolnir sounds significantly better once it's had time to warm up.