This review was done at the request of fellow newbie Head-Fier Chgm.
Finally, after a long burn-in period and long listening sessions with both amps, I'm ready to give my impressions. This is specifically to test out the Schiit Lyr and the Alo Pan Am with the LCD 2 Rev.2. and songs that CHGM specifically requested (plus a few of my own additions as well).
Let’s start with the LCD 2 first. When I first put it on the first thing that popped into my head (as with most people) was “what a dark sound!”, and I do mean dark to the point where I took them off and scratched my head thinking, “did I just pay $1000K for these?”
However, remembering how the sound on my ATH-M50 got better as time went by (I did not know about Head-fi at the time), and how I thought I overspent when I first got the Sennheiser HD598, I persisted. Those two cans became better as they got more use, and I felt this even without reading about the concept of burn-in. The only concept I had about burn-in was to let my computer components run continuously under stress for at least 48 hours to weed out any lemons amongst the components. Around six weeks after purchasing the HD598, I discovered head-fi as I was researching new music to listen to.
So armed, I kept listening and as the LCD 2 got more head time, the sound became clearer, the highs extended more, and the feel became airy-er. The highs were no longer dry-ish, and the dark sound started to brighten up bit by bit. It is still dark compared to my HD598 and Grado SR80i, but I find I now prefer the LCD 2 as I can wear it for hours on end without rest. It is non-fatiguing at all. The only issue is the occasional neck pain I feel after long sessions.
A note on the sound of the LCD 2:
The sound of the LCD 2 is like a thick wall of air supersaturated with sound waves slamming into you, permeating your whole being. Have you seen the first Fantastic Four movie? That scene where the four heroes were bombarded by that cosmic storm...that’s how I imagine the sound of the LCD 2!
In comparison, my second best headphone, the HD598 feels like a slight breeze (albeit a great sounding breeze). Think lowest setting on an electric fan – that is the HD598, while the LCD is on setting number 3.
Fairly utilitarian. No high end, summit-fi material here. I was asked to do this review because CHGM wanted to get either the Lyr or the Pan Am, and just so happened to find I owned both.
Shiit Lyr with Schiit Bifrost DAC and GE Tubes. The Schiit stack is connected via Optical to a first generation Macbook unibody. The Alo Pan Am is paired with a set of Siemens Tubes I ordered with it. It is connected via the Pan Am USB to the same Macbook. I used the built-in DAC on the Pan Am. Where applicable, FLAC files are played with Amarra, without any EQ. I do mess with EQ, but decided against it for this comparison. Why? Two amps, two sound sigs – I would have spent half my time fiddling with the EQ per song! So yeah, I was kinda lazy. Sorry.
A note on the files:
I have no LPs. I have a limited number of CDs. Please note, the majority of the songs I listened to for this review were Spotify 320 HQ streams (cached in my HDD). Some are in FLAC 16bit 44.1. I will let you know which ones are which as we go along the list.
The listening tests were conducted in the following way:
· Per-album basis rather than per song (where applicable)
· Per song basis, LYR first, then Pan Am, then vice versa
· Specific sections of a track that I am most familiar with, first the LYR, then Pan Am, then vice versa
Listening tests were conducted throughout a three-week period.
The Songs and my impressions: (again these are songs requested by CHGM with a few additions from me)
Offspring - Dirty Magic (FLAC)- This was fantastic on both amps. Both possessed great bass impact that was both tangibly physical and musical. It is not simply a booming sound, but actual pedal-to-drum-skin accurate and the accompanying push of the air that comes with it. I feel the Lyr reproduced the bass and snare drum with a little more accurately than the Pan Am. They fared equally well on the Bass and electric guitar.
The vocals are very clear on both, and I would say perform equally well at the loudness I listen to. It has to be said that I listen to the Lyr at 10:00, and the Pan Am at Low Gain at 12:00. I felt low gain to be enough for the Pan Am, and felt the bass to be a little more to my taste this setting. High gain made it boom-ier, but at an ever so slight loss of bass clarity.
The main difference I felt was the slightly better bass and bigger, more extended soundstage on the Lyr. You can more easily home-in on an instrument on the Shiit Lyr. Whether this is an effect of the Bifrost DAC, I don’t know, as I did not test the Lyr without a DAC. That would not have been fair, because the Pan Am has a built in DAC that I could not bypass for this reveiw.
Imagine Dragons – Continued Silence (Spotify 320kbps) and Fun. – Some Nights (Spotify 320kbps)
These were my two favorite albums on the ATH-M50 + FiiO e17 (Bass + 4, Treble +2). It was even better on the Schiit Asgard+Bifrost+HD598. The HD598 seemed too bass-anemic to me on the FiiO, and anything over bass+6 on it is not to my liking. The Bifrost+Asgard+HD598 had the perfect synergy with this album methinks…until the Lyr, and Pan Am and LCD 2 arrived.
The Lyr and Pan Am both delivered crisp highs that were never fatiguing. I never felt the urge, not once, to clench my jaws in anticipation of the slight ear-piecing note that sometimes accompany my Asgard+Bifrost+HD598 setup. Many times, I braced myself for the pain that never came, and realised on the LCD 2, that will not happen again (at least I hope).
The difference again is the bass. The quality is the same, but the impact is different. On these albums, the Lyr actually made the whole LCD 2 headphone vibrate. The LCD 2 is solid. The most solid, and heaviest headphone in my possession, yet the Lyr literally shook them (ok “shook” would be an exaggeration) while on my head. Disclaimer: I have a smallish head. I have it on three steps on the telescopic adjuster prongs. Maybe that had something to do with it.
Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley – Me Name Jr. Gong – I must admit that this wa not my cup of tea in terms of music – the key word there being “was”. With these amps and the LCD 2, I thoroughly enjoyed this track.
Bass is veeeery crisp, solid, and impactful. But more than the bass though, it’s all the accompanying sounds that caught my earbuds. The details sounded delightfully tasty. The background singers, and those clinking, snapping, sharp instruments that I can’t name. (Somebody please help me out here).
Everything was exquisite on both on Lyr and Pan Am, but the Pan Am delivered a very closer knit sound via its slightly smaller soundstage and it was good. Why is that good? Well, imagination is part of how I enjoy music. For this track I imagined I was on a beach resort listening to a reggae band in a makeshift stage sipping a pinacolada. And you know what? It works! The Lyr’s bigger music space did not work for me on this track. Although it felt verily the same quality, it didn’t feel quite authentic, as it did not jive with the picture and imagery I had in my head. The Pan Am for this type of music for me.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations Main Theme – Lorne Balfe with London Philharmonic Orchestra (Spotify 320kbps)
This track is a very haunting one. The singer’s voice conveys such pain and sadness that it makes the soul ache. The accompanying orchestral instruments, choir sections, and other electronically added garnishing simply frame the melodic vocals. Note that the singer is not singing a song, just using her voice to make melodies.
Here the Pan Am presented the vocals much closer to the listener making it a more intimate experience. The Lyr presented the vocals further away, and although not taking away from the clarity overall, it left the listener a little disconnected to the emotion of the song. Score for Pan Am.
Master Assassin and Desmond Miles – Jesper Kyd (Spotify 320kbps)
Master Assassin was perfect on the Lyr. If you’ve played the game (Assassin’s creed) you can easily imagine Ezio running atop roofs and dodging and fighting enemy soldiers and templars.
Though not that much more exceptional sonically than the Pan Am on this track, the added space and air between the instruments made it a more convincing listen. This track was from an open sandbox game, and the Lyr certainly made it feel like that. The space the Lyr conveyed was expansive, and thus the instruments are more easily picked out. The melodic background vocals were more absorbing as well.
I think I would have been perfectly happy with how the Pan Am presented it had I not played the game or knew about the background of the game, but I did, and my poor impressionable brain liked the way it was done on the Lyr better.
All above comments about Master Assassin apply to the track Desmond Miles as well.
Quiet Nights + Este Seu Olhar – Diana Krall (Flac)
Quiet nights was uhm...meh. Sorry to all the Diana Krall fans out there, but this just didn’t register with me sonically and emotionally. Neither the Lyr nor the Pan Am gave me a reason to change my mind.
Este Seu Olhar – this at least I liked. The detailed instrumentation of the track, the raspy, sultry voice of Ms. Krall mixed well with the bass and the guitar and it was especially lovely that I could pick out the sliding of the fingers on the frets. The percussion was also spot on; suitably gentle and not overly snappy. This track was enjoyable on both Pan Am and Lyr. Somehow the Lyr managed to be both spacious and yet intimate in this track. Detail is amazing on both. Tie.
Metallica - Enter Sandman (1000 kbps FLAC) –
This was a tough call but I preferred going back to this track on the Lyr. The Lyr I thought, delivered more “Bite” overall (Considering the overall tone and theme of the song). The vocals had the suitable amount of highs, the snare drum had a mean overbite and the better ‘snap!’, the bass, all had the right impact for the song.
And at the end….Booooo!!! Which always makes me say to my Lyr, “Yeah, Yeah!!!”
Metallica with SFSO Live - Enter Sandman (1000 kbps FLAC) –
This track was a mess and an unlistenable cacophony of noise on my Asgard+Bifrost+HD598. It was, for lack of a better word, terrible. That, I guess, was due more to the nature of SS on a naturally bass light, treble tilted pair of cans. The HD598 is still one of my favs, and it is detailed as hell, but this track was just too busy and too complicated for it. Imagine full rock band in the foreground and full symphonic orchestra in the background. Wow. One is already a handful (especially since it’s Metallica), but together? This will be a stern test for any headphone.
And yes it WAS a stern test – that the Lyr and the Pan Am passed with flying colors. More so the Lyr + Bifrost with its spacing and detail. On some passages, the Pan Am didn’t quite articulate the combined rock and symphony combination as well as the Lyr + Bifrost. The Pan Am showed a more Rock centric focus, whereas the Lyr, while still rock centric, managed to keep me aware of all the gyrations of the symphonic accompaniment.
Again…Booo! Yeah, yeah!
I apologize to Chgm, as I was unable to find the other tracks he requested. If you could send me a FLAC disc of said tracks, I could do a follow-up comparison.
On the actual Amps:
The Pan Am I was able to get during the black Friday sale. Got me a mean deal for all that I got, and had I purchased every component, I would have easily spent more tha 50% more than I actually did. Alo Audio also took good care of me from the very first email to the thank you note when I told them I had recieved the product.
The Schiit Lyr was my third Schiit product from Addicted to Audio (Schiit’s Australian distributors). Addicted to Audio (www.addictedtoaudio.com.au) are a bang to deal with. Got majority of my products almost overnight, considering they’re on a totall difference country. Jason Stoddard of Schiit Audio has replied to each and every enquiry I sent him.
And before you get any ideas, no I did not receive compesation. Just giving kudos where kudos is due.
Value for money, I think the Pan Am trumps the Lyr+Bifrost combo IF all you need is a USB DAC. It is a whole lotta Amp-DAC for the price.
If you need a whole slew of digital inputs, then Lyr+Bifrost is the clear winner.
Portability wise, the Pan Am of course is the winner. Let’s not mince words, the Schiits are heavy and need to be plugged in. I got the Pan Am with the passport and it has now replaced my FiiO e17 as my transportable setup. I don’t do mobile listening, I plunk onto a desk, work, and enjoy. If I did listen while on the go, I think I would prefer my iPhone 4S+FiiO overall.
At home, I do find myself plugging-in to the Lyr more often than the Pan Am. My poor - yet still beloved Asgard – has been relegated to a platform for the Lyr. (http://www.head-fi.org/g/i/736999/the-corner-audio-station/sort/display_order/). At the office, when plugged into the Pan Am, never do I think “Gosh I wish I had my Lyr.” That is high praise I think.
As for which amp do I prefer? I say get both! Sorry about your wallet.