Pros: Inexpensive, solidly-built, wide soundstage with high-ohm headphones, pre-amp is handy with active monitors.
Cons: Headphone choices are limited to high-impedance models for the most part.
“You know, I’ve never owned any Schi….um, any of your products..” I was saying to Jason Stoddard in LA in March. Indeed, the last time I’d sampled anything from his company was years ago at a meet in Australia, where an original Asgard hadn’t impressed me. So I asked Jason if he would send me a Valhalla 2 once they were in production, as the amp seemed to be something of a potential all-rounder, which is unusual for an OTL tube amp, which would normally be suited only to high-impedance headphones of 300 Ohms and above.
When the Valhalla 2 turned up, I was greeted with a small, but weighty box. The amp itself looks like it should be light, but the aluminium chassis is thicker than I had expected and the top, side and back plates are substantial metal as well, adding to the weight. The Valhalla 2 comes with 2 sets of tubes, the shorter ones are Russian 6N1P and the larger are 6N6P. Setting up the tubes was straight-forward: Put the small ones in the front sockets and the big ones in the back sockets. Plug in the power cord and source and power up. A gain switch on the back also changes the output impedance, with low gain set up for IEMs and low-impedance headphones such as Grados, IEMs and portable headphones which tend to be low impedance as well.
I didn’t simply want to hook the Valhalla 2 up to my best DAC, best cables and whatnot, as people who are likely to buy it wouldn’t have the same expensive equipment as I do, so I initially plugged it into the same power strip as my computer with the stock power cord and connected it to a Geek Out using an Audioquest Mini 3 cable.
The Valhalla 2 blurb says that you can use it even with planar headphones and IEMs, even if the power output at 50 Ohms was going to be a lacklustre 180mW. It did indeed seem to deliver music, at least basically to a pair of LCD-X but some roughness in the sound suggested that it wasn’t a good pairing and switching back to my Studio Six was a huge sonic relief. My HD-800s paired vastly better with the soundstage nice and wide, if the clarity and instrument delineation was behind that of the more expensive amp. More noticeable out of the box was that the sound had a bit of bite — a bit of harshness on the leading edge of notes. I decided to leave the amp running for a few days to see if it went away, as I’d experienced similar things with other amps fresh out of the box.
Inevitably I’d have to evaluate the amp on its own, so I hooked it up to the Hugo, which was also feeding the Studio Six. What was quite surprising was the degree to which it was possible to distinguish the sources the Valhalla 2. The Hugo was noticeably smoother than the Geek Out, though not by as big a margin as it was using the Studio Six, or directly out of each DAC using their headphone sockets.
The sound itself isn’t at all “tubey” but entirely clean and clear, which would make it a good match with mid-range high-impedance headphones, which can sound closed and narrow with poor amps. After settling on a pair of headphones, a bit of fine-tuning can then be done with DAC selection if desired if one simply doesn’t select a Modi or Bifrost from Schiit as well and simply be “done”. More so now that it has pre-amp outputs, putting it on one’s desk with a pair of active monitors from the likes of Emotiva, Adam or others would make for a great all-round home-office or similar rig.
Thanks to Jason for sending over a Valhalla for review. A video will follow soon.