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Decent tube hybrid amp

A Review On: Schiit Lyr

Schiit Lyr

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Asr
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Pros: Power output to drive very inefficient headphones

Cons: Average sound quality overall

Originally published on November 16, 2011

 

Note: this review is an exact cross-post from post #1 of this thread on Head-Fi, which contains some user discussion on the review that may be relevant to read: http://www.head-fi.org/t/580636/mini-review-schiit-lyr

 

Intro

This mini-review covers my thoughts on the Schiit Lyr vs HeadAmp GS-X in balanced mode, specifically for the Audeze LCD-2 r2 (with additional comments on the Senn HD800 and Audio-Technica AD2000 as well). Why these two amps? Because I already had the GS-X and was curious to find out what sort of sonic difference could be expected from triple the output power - the GS-X is rated at up to 2W @ 32 Ohms in balanced mode (1W per channel), and the Lyr is rated at up to 6W @ 32 Ohms.

Listening for this mini-review was done over about a week, a lot shorter than my typical listening for full reviews which are usually done over months. Primary reason for this is general lack of time available, along with general lack of motivation for a prolonged review period - i.e., there are other things I'd rather do with my time nowadays. Standard disclaimer hence applies: the below impressions should not be considered final and subject to change. I also don't typically trust even my own impressions on 1-2 week review periods. The best way I'd describe my approach for this mini-review: informal & short-term but critical listening.

 

Note: the review Lyr unit is one I bought. I usually write reviews on stuff I buy, as I'm averse to manufacturer loans - IMO this removes any manufacturer expectations on the review, and it allows me to take as much time as I want as well (though the time factor was certainly ignored for this review).

Equipment Setup

- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall)
- Analog interconnects: Analysis Plus Silver Oval RCA & XLR
- Tubes used on Lyr: 6BZ7 and 6N1P pairs supplied by Schiit Audio
- Headphones: Audeze LCD-2 r2 w/ stock ADZ-6 cable and Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 XLR cable (for balanced operation), Audio-Technica AD2000, Sennheiser HD800

Both pairs of the Lyr tubes were "burned in" for 2 days each before listening started for this mini-review.

Evaluation Music

- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways, Paper Airplane
- Dave Brubeck - Time Out [Legacy Edition]
- Carlos Kleiber & VPO - Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7
- Helloween - 7 Sinners
- In Flames - The Jester Race
- Leftfield - Leftism
- The Crystal Method - Community Service II, Legion of Boom, Tweekend
- Trifonic - Emergence

Assessment

Regardless of which tubes were used in the Lyr, I ended up concluding it was the inferior amp to the GS-X in balanced mode, despite having the power output advantage. I also concluded that maybe the LCD-2 doesn't really need very much power to sound great, because while it sounded good on the Lyr, it actually sounded better on the GS-X - it sounded awesome!

I didn't compare the tube pairs to each other, which was impossible with only one Lyr unit (would have needed a 2nd one to do a tube comparison), but I did compare each to the GS-X in a "which tube set is better than the GS-X?" kind of way and neither comparison went very favorably for the Lyr. The GS-X beat both tube pairs to me, in the same way, as described below.

(From here on to the end, assume that my Lyr opinion applies to both of the tube pairs.)

I'll begin by stating that the Lyr produced really good sound on the LCD-2 (and HD800) and probably very few people would have any complaints unless they compared it to something a lot better (like I did for this mini-review). In the classic "ignorance is bliss" scenario, the LCD-2/Lyr combo could be considered bliss, as long as you don't hear anything else. It was obvious the Lyr capably drove the LCD-2 - plentiful bass & mid-range, keeping the LCD-2's overall tactile sound intact. More mid-bass & mid-range than the GS-X in fact, which could be a good thing for those who don't care about anything other than that. Lots of "substance" and "body", in other words. The Lyr also consistently compressed soundstages (depth & width), removing quite a bit of the "open air" element and tended to make music sound closer and more upfront - sometimes even in-head, depending on the recording. This kind of thing can be considered a good thing for certain music types like rock or metal (even jazz) but far from ideal for others, like classical.

But the more comparing that I did with the GS-X, the more it revealed shortcomings to the Lyr, enough that I couldn't help but conclude that the GS-X essentially crushed the Lyr in almost every key sonic aspect. The Lyr bliss went out the window every time I switched over to the GS-X - it really was that much better. And considering I think of the LCD-2 as merely above-average (and not the "excellent" pedestal that I place the Stax OII MKI on), that actually says a lot for the LCD-2.

On the GS-X, the LCD-2 sounded substantially clearer, while it was muddy-sounding on the Lyr with either tube set. This significantly improved the perception of detail throughout the spectrum - bass was more distinct and treble more precise. The improved clarity made instruments sound more "raw" and "existential" as well - the Lyr just muddied & smoothed over things too much. There was also more balance towards the treble, which helped to add to the clarity. The GS-X also vastly improved the soundstage, rightfully shoving elements away so they didn't sound too close and had actual dimension, depth, & width. There was substantially more "air" between instruments on the GS-X so it didn't sound nearly as compressed & suffocating as the Lyr. Even the HD800 with its large soundstage still sounded almost in-head on the Lyr - going out-of-head only on the GS-X. Speaking of the HD800, I also found that the Lyr outright robbed the HD800 of its clarity. Definitely would not recommend it for anyone who likes the HD800's clarity.

There was simply no loss in anything else on the GS-X - no obvious detractions from treble, mid-range, or bass, or from impulse response. The GS-X may not have had the Lyr's up-close & filling sound, but it more than made up for it with vastly improved clarity and soundstaging, and it powered the LCD-2 just as well as the Lyr. At really high volumes it showed absolutely no sign of distortion or loss in dynamic range.

There was another setback with the Lyr and that was driving the Audio-Technica AD2000, which developed a weird treble gnashing along with a loss in bass & mid-bass. And the AD2K picked up an electrical hum from the Lyr as well (as expected for its sensitivity rating) which was distracting except during loud music (it was audible during quiet music).

If anyone is curious at this point, yes I changed the tubes 6 times for Lyr/GS-X comparisons with 3 headphones. This got annoying, because the tubes were tricky & frustrating to remove.

At the end of the day I'd call the Lyr a decent value for what it is, an amp for driving inefficient headphones, but at the same time I really wasn't impressed sonically by it (next to the GS-X) and the best I can give it is a neutral impression. IMO, it's at around the minimum level of acceptable sonic performance - but for its price range, I can't really fault it either. Not to take anything away from Schiit Audio though - I always like American companies building products in the USA providing exceptional service & support, which they're doing, and I applaud them for making affordable products.

My recommendation for LCD-2 (or LCD-3 even?) owners: if your source is good enough, spring for something better than the Lyr. The HeadAmp GS-X is just one option and IMO it's a great amp for it, but only in balanced mode (so a balanced source is also required). Plus, owners of true-balanced sources with dual-differential DAC configurations will potentially yield even better results than mine, as mine isn't dual-differential. I'll add that amping the LCD-2 with the Lyr undermines the LCD-2's potential, and if you're buying or own the LCD-2, which isn't exactly a cheap headphone, why cheap out on an amp and subtract from its potential?

I learned from doing this mini-review that more power output isn't always better, and that the GS-X has what it takes to power the LCD-2 and make it sound awesome. I'm also looking forward to Schiit's upcoming statement amp, which I hope will be awesome. I'm optimistic that Schiit will make an amp that will impress me. smile.gif

 

Operation/Handling

 

One important aspect of the Lyr that should be reiterated was the difficulty that I had in removing the tubes. Because they were so far inset into the amp with not much space to grip them, it was often very tricky to remove them—in fact, I outright shattered a 6BZ7 tube under my fingers due to applying too much pressure on it. Schiit was kind enough to supply me with a replacement 6BZ7 and offered to check for broken glass inside the amp as well, but I opted to open the amp myself and shook the glass out that way.

 

So anyone who intends on rolling tubes may want to look into convenient solutions for removing tubes. Info on this subject can be found on Head-Fi in the Amps forum.

Related Reading

Previous reviews that I've written that will help provide additional context on my opinion of the LCD-2 r1, including on the Schiit Asgard 1:

- Audeze LCD-2 multi-way review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/548875/review-audeze-lcd-2-hifiman-he-6-stax-sr-507-stax-oii-mki-bhse-et-al/
- Schiit Asgard comparison review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/531228/review-schiit-audio-asgard-avenson-audio-headphone-amp/

 

Addendum to mini-review: Gilmore Lite comparison

 

I formally compared the Lyr w/ 6N1P tubes to my Gilmore Lite w/ Elpac btw and my conclusion is: the LCD-2 r2 exhibited obvious signs of being under-driven by the GL. The GL actually sounded worse than the Lyr.

 

The LCD-2's obvious signs of being under-driven by the GL: very weak bass & mid-range overall. Severe lack of directness to sound. Slowness in note attacks. Music sounding like an unorganized blurry mess. Percussive impacts lacking impact. Lack of actual volume increase when turning up the knob.

 

If I didn't know better I'd actually call the GL a slow amp based on its performance with the LCD-2, but I know better (because it's not slow, it's actually one of the fastest amps I've ever heard when driving far easier headphone loads) and my conclusion is that the GL simply lacks the power output to properly drive the LCD-2. The GL is not an amp I'd recommend for the LCD-2 at all - it really sounded that bad to me. The Lyr, on the other hand, would be my recommendation as a minimum amp.

 

Considering the identical Dynalo "architecture" of the GL and GS-X, I'd make another conclusion: it's not the circuit that's to blame, only the power output difference, because the LCD-2 sounds way better on the GS-X (when balanced) than it does on the GL. Considering the GS-1 has the same power output spec as the GL, I wouldn't recommend it for the LCD-2 either. The GS-X in balanced mode is the only Dynalo-based amping that I'd recommend for the LCD-2. For better unbalanced amps I'd recommend either the B22 or Dynahi. The LCD-2 r1 that I previously owned performed better on a B22 than it did balanced on my GS-X.

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