Review: Schiit Magni
published on March 3, 2013
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Although I wouldn't really call myself a fan of Schiit Audio, I nonetheless really like their no-nonsense & hilarious marketing copy, and the basic approach to their amps - simple & effective designs, with everything made in the USA. Call it American pride, but I always like to support American-made products whenever possible - even moreso small companies.
Although I wasn't impressed by Schiit's Asgard or Lyr which I previously owned, I decided to buy a Magni anyway to find out what it was like. Its $99 price tag was too good to pass up.
This review was based on approximately 5 weeks of frequent usage.
- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall)
- Analog interconnects: Emotiva X-Series RCA
- Comparison headphone amplifier: Burson Soloist
- Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000, Beyerdynamic DT1350, Fostex TH900, HiFiMan HE-400, V-MODA M-100
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
- Andrea Parker - Kiss My Arp
- Goldfrapp - Black Cherry
- Helloween - 7 Sinners
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine
- Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction [MFSL]
- The Crystal Method - Vegas [2007 Deluxe Edition], Tweekend
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land
- Trifonic - Emergence
I'll just say it upfront: at $99, the Magni is an absolute steal, possibly the all-time best steal for a low-cost dynamic amp made in the USA! In my time on Head-Fi, I've heard amps ranging in price and category all over the map, from cheap battery-powered portables all the way up to high-end electrostatic ones like the HeadAmp BHSE, and the Magni has to be the all-time best value that I've seen!
The Magni is the only dynamic amp I'm going to blanket recommend for everyone (and I seriously mean, everyone) on a budget. There's literally nothing else that I'd recommend for under $200. Well, I actually haven't heard many amps under $200, especially recently, so that might be empty praise. But that's not what I mean - I mean that the Magni makes a whole lot of sense to purchase for those who are either just starting out in the headphone world, or just need a really basic amp that will do the job of driving pretty much any dynamic (or planar magnetic) set of headphones. The $99 cost is ridiculously low for an amp that can capably drive any kind of dynamic headphones.
What I'm saying is that the Magni is the smallest yet also most tricked-out dynamic amp that I've ever seen, and for $99 that makes it an absolute must-buy. Even if it sounded less than stellar, it'd still be worth buying. Of course the question then becomes, how does it sound?
I'll say this upfront too: the Magni wasn't really the best-sounding amp that I've heard. In fact, more than anything else I was actually sort of underwhelmed and the opposite of impressed.
I'll be honest: if I was asked to ignore the price completely, the Magni would probably be one of the last amps that I'd recommend based on its sound quality alone. It wasn't really all that great to me. Granted, it's not like it was terrible at anything, but it certainly wasn't close enough to what I'd call the minimum acceptable level of performance for an AC-powered amp. If I could directly compare it to something like the HeadAmp Gilmore Lite, I'm pretty sure the GL would sonically crush it on everything except the most hard-to-drive headphones.
The primary sonic issues I had with the Magni included its sloppy & limited-extending bass, overall lack of clarity, a high tendency to "blur" or "muddify" increasingly complex music, and an over-compacted soundstage (removing "air" and spatial cues & reflections). However, none of these issues took anything away from the Magni's value rating. It's just that I expected the Magni to sound like a $99 amp, and it did.
That said, I thought the Magni did an effective job driving all of the headphones that I tested on it, including the HiFiMan HE-400 specifically, which I especially torture-tested on it. Although the Magni/HE-400 combo never distorted, I thought it also really showed the Magni's sonic limitations. For the HE-400, I'd recommend another amp instead, like the Burson Soloist for example, which did a much better job driving it.
There were a few minor technical issues that subtracted from the Magni for me:
- The amp wasn't completely silent at zero volume and allowed music to "bleed" from the source to the headphones. I mention this because it's been a very long time since I last heard an amp that had this sort of issue. Almost every other AC-powered amp I've heard hasn't had this issue. Note that this "bleed" will only be audible on low-impedance, efficient headphones though and probably won't be audible on anything higher (i.e., inefficient or high-impedance headphones).
- I found that the gain was too high for comfortable adjustment of the volume on low-impedance, efficient headphones like my Audio-Technica AD2K. For that reason, I highly recommend checking your headphone specifications (if it's a low-impedance type) before buying the Magni. In fact, I'd flat-out advise against using low-impedance headphones with sensitivities higher than 100 dB/mW with the Magni, out of source components with at least 2V RMS output.
- Related to the gain, I also found that there was higher than average channel imbalance on the volume pot. Specifically, the point of channel balance on the volume pot for low-impedance, efficient headphones was at a relatively loud volume setting. This is another reason I advise against using low-impedance, efficient headphones with the Magni. It wasn't exactly pleasant to have the amp blasting out volume on my Audio-Technica AD2K just as it achieved proper channel balance.
Due to the gain & channel balance issue, the only headphone types I'd recommend for the Magni would be either inefficient dynamic headphones (generally most AKG, Sennheiser, or Beyerdynamic models) or the planar magnetics (Audeze, HiFiMan).
My recommendation for the Magni is loaded with caveats: I really only recommend it for those on especially tight budgets, or who own low-end headphones, or both. Or those who are cynical-minded and really don't foresee ever upgrading to a more expensive amp. I completely urge buying a more expensive amp if you can afford to - even if it's the Lyr, which I don't have a very high opinion of either. Headphones like the Audeze LCD-x or HiFiMan HE-series deserve a better amp than the Magni, IMO. If you really want to hear a planar magnetic (or a similarly upper-end dynamic headphone) at its best, I highly recommend spending more than the Magni's $99.
Even my lowly $300 Beyerdynamic DT1350 and V-MODA M-100 consistently revealed the Burson Soloist as the superior amp. It didn't take the AD2K, HE-400, or TH900 to do it (though they did as well, of course). But for those who just want an amp as cheaply as possible and don't care much about sound: I say let ignorance be bliss and just enjoy the Magni and rock out. Because that's pretty much the only sonic compliment that I can give it: it rocked out really well and was something like the amp equivalent of an Audeze to me - not all that detailed but plenty of fun with forward and thick mids & mid-bass, translating to more prominent vocals and bass lines.
If I had to sum up the Magni's sound, I'd call it something like fizz in a bottle. Enthusiastic and a definite "energy bar" fix for any kind of passive- or laid-back-sounding headphone.
And although I found the Magni to effectively drive all of the headphones I tested it with, I wouldn't say any of those headphones sounded great on it. In fact, I preferred all of them on the Burson Soloist instead of the Magni. Once I started comparing the Magni to the Soloist, the latter inevitably became my amp of choice for just about every headphone and music genre. So it'd also be accurate to say that most people will probably never notice any "flaws" with the Magni unless they start comparing it to a better amp like I did for the purpose of this review.
Schiit Asgard review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/531228/review-schiit-audio-asgard-avenson-audio-headphone-amp
Schiit Lyr mini-review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/580636/mini-review-schiit-lyr
Addendum - Review Notes
My review notes are included here in their own section for convenience. These provide specific detailed info not included in the review. Notes start below the asterisks.
> Fostex TH900:
Massive Attack - "Inertia Creeps", Goldfrapp - "Strict Machine": Magni has semi-blurry, messy sound over opening effects of Inertia Creeps. Magni less diverged to left/right, provides more illusion of center fill. Slightly smaller soundstage. Magni has a less "solid", physical, & impactful sound. Bass also lacks some depth on it, low extension missing as well.
Vocals (3D's and Goldfrapp's) closer-positioned on Magni. More spatials on Soloist contrasting with more of a closed-in & intimate presentation on Magni. Soloist has "softer" impact than Magni, sort of like a wet punch. Soloist maintains deeper, more solid bass current throughout; Magni more light-weight with a relative bass reduction in comparison.
Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos, track #1: Magni moves entire orchestra forward (or "closer"). Smaller scale & soundstage than Soloist, primarily in depth. Higher noise floor as well, so background hiss-like sound not as audible on it.
> Audio-Technica AD2K:
Megadeth - "Sweating Bullets": Soloist has clearer sound throughout, very noticeable on AD2K actually. Improved separation/diffusion on Soloist; very compacted imaging on Magni. Magni has more percussive impact and closer, physical-sounding hits. Deeper bass/lower mids on Soloist. Faster "drive" & tighter sound with Soloist. Male vocals almost in the background on Soloist, more forward on Magni. Magni more boring? Less "active" mid-bass.
The Prodigy - "Narayan", "Climbatize": compacted soundstage of Magni makes AD2K too compact-sounding - i.e., too forward, but might be subjectively acceptable for those who prefer an in-your-face presentation. Magni & Soloist both maintain solid "drive" into AD2K overall. Magni also "tears" into the music more than Soloist, definitely less "neutral". Soloist "passive/laid-back" compared to Magni's "active/assertive". Soloist lacks the key "insistence" that can make these tracks come alive on a Dynalo; Magni has more insistence/forward-moving drive but lacks the extreme tightness & swift recovery of a Dynalo - i.e., is slightly plodgy. More "pressurized attack" on Magni despite its plodge, sort of like a carbonated-drink bottle getting ready to explode.
Magni more fun/entertaining. Sort of like a "flavor" to add energy or fizz to a headphone. Soloist more expansive/spatially divergent; also has cleaner bass with more depth.
> HiFiMan HE-400:
Alison Krauss & Union Station - "Dustbowl Children": more treble quantity on Soloist; not very much on Magni. For example, guitar has more "steel" and bite on Soloist. Magni seems to have more mid-range quantity - more fullness & body. Magni also lacks ability to render reverb and sound-wave reflections. Almost like the Magni takes the "air" out of the room, not allowing for reflection & decay of sound waves. Magni has small-room-scale acoustics, not the large-room acoustics of the Soloist. More spatials/dimension of Soloist obvious on HE-400 as well as AD2K.
Trifonic - "Transgenic": Soloist has more of that empty-space void critical for ambient electronica; not nearly as much on Magni. Soloist more discretely renders the various effects & layers in this track and makes everything sound bigger spatially - width & depth. Significantly more treble quantity & precision as well.
Helloween - "Who is Mr. Madman?": Soloist better organizes and de-blurs complex music. Magni becomes muddier on very complex music, especially as far as impulse response is involved. At very high volume: Magni becomes increasingly muddier and loses general control of the track. Drumming speedruns also very buried (lost in the mix) on the Magni; much more clear & discrete on the Soloist. Treble notably becomes harsh & grating on Magni at ultra-high volume and completely loses clarity once volume goes past a certain point.
The Crystal Method - "Murder", "Ten Miles Back", "Tough Guy", "High Roller", "Vapor Trail": Soloist maintains clearer, cleaner bass lines. Also more apparent depth, as if the bass "sinks" more. More low "ooze" factor on Soloist; Magni is just thick and semi-bloated. Bass on Soloist feels sort of like a tar river of doom. Soloist really allows you to hear the HE-400's bass extension; Magni barely at all. Magni has limited extension, but more mid-bass impact and is generally thicker, which provides illusion of "moar bass".
Andrea Parker - "Melodious Thunk", "Some Other Level", "Elements Of Style": Torture test of HE-400 overall performance & bass at very high volume levels - both amps certainly have the power output capability to drive the HE-400. No audible distortion in any part of spectrum at very high volume. Magni lacks the singular focus of the Soloist though. Both amps cause HE-400 to literally rattle/shake on head due to bass volume levels, without causing any sonic dropouts - every sonic element remains audible.
Soloist more obviously drives HE-400 better than Magni though. Magni sounds like a sloppy mess at very high volume, but Soloist maintains clarity. Bass also blurs & becomes indistinct on Magni at high volume; maintains solidity & clarity on Soloist. Soloist also has more driving force in general to push HE-400 with a forward-moving drive.
Overall amp conclusions: Magni sufficient for extremely basic amping needs only, at the expense of quality sonic definition. Very outclassed by Soloist regardless of which headphones used. Primary redeeming factor of Magni becomes its $99 price, not its sound quality.
Edited by Asr - 3/3/13 at 9:31pm